Welcome to Sofia Coppola month! Over the course of this series, I’ve noticed a pattern. So far, the first films our directors made have been smallish, personal movies; unpolished films that carry the seeds of themes and images that will grow as the directors do. The Virgin Suicides is not that movie. Sofia Coppola’s 1999 first feature film is neither small nor unpolished. While the film carries themes of isolation and adolescence that Coppola will continue to explore throughout her career, this is not the unpolished or underfunded first film of someone still learning the business. Starring two stars on the cusp of breakthrough (Kirsten Dunst and Josh Hartnett), as well as several well-loved actors (Kathleen Turner, James Woods, Danny DeVito), and shot by a cinematographer with 20 years of experience (Edward Lachman), this may be the most well-varnished first film we’ve seen.
Adapted by Coppola from Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel, The Virgin Suicides is a nostalgic suburban gothic. Set in 1970s Detroit, an unnamed narrator reminisces on his high school crush on the girls next door, five sisters who committed suicide for reasons he still can’t understand:
Everyone dates the decline of our neighborhood from the deaths of the Lisbon girls.