The Virgin Suicides

USA 1999

Reviewed by Mark Olsen


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

A male narrator recounts how a group of five teenage sisters, the Lisbons, all committed suicide during his youth in a Michigan suburb 25 years ago.

After the youngest Lisbon, Cecilia, tries to slash her wrists, a psychiatrist recommends the sisters be allowed more interaction with boys. The Lisbons host a party during which Cecilia throws herself from a window, killing herself. The shock of her death causes the family to close in on itself, and the girls become a source of obsessive fascination for the boys. When the athletic Trip Fontaine courts Lux Lisbon, the girls seem within their grasp. Mr and Mrs Lisbon only allow Trip to take Lux to a dance if the girls all go. At the party, Trip and Lux are crowned homecoming king and queen. When Lux stays out all night, she brings on a parental crackdown.

The girls are taken out of school and kept at home. The boys attempt to communicate with them, and soon the girls secretly begin sending notes. Lured late one night to the Lisbon house, the boys believe it is to aid an escape. They discover the four sisters have all taken their own lives. The mysterious motivations of the Lisbon sisters haunt them into their adult years.


Making her feature-film debut directing her own adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides' novel The Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola has essentially given herself two main goals: to portray adolescence's delicate blend of whimsy and melancholy, while recreating the soft-rock and wood-panelled-basement side of American life in the 70s. Her take is probably more in line with the actual recollections of people who came of age in that era, when suburban living had reached its decadent peak, more so than the coked-up disco-pants and haircuts imagery so commonly used to establish the period.

Moreover, that era has long been the main cultural touchstone for the casually wealthy, ultra-hip media-darling demi-monde of which Coppola is very much a part. Before now she has dipped a toe into numerous endeavours, including photographer, actress and boutique owner. This diverse background makes her perfectly suited for the role of film director and perhaps the most impressive thing about her film is the way it's very much a total package. All of its elements - performance, cinematography, sound, art design - combine to illuminate not just a theme or singular idea, but to create a unified feeling and mood.

An oblong detective story of sorts, the film's unseen narrator recounts, 25 years on, one odd year in a suburb just outside Detroit. A group of five teenage sisters all kill themselves, leaving behind a group of boys whose odd fascination with the girls lingers into adulthood. Eugenides' novel and Coppola's film in turn are not concerned with explaining the exact details and motivations of the event. Tinged with a stately death-march pace that stems from the divulged outcome from the start, both film and novel are touched by a sad sympathy for the boys' obsession, while allowing the girls to remain inscrutably unknowable, inhabiting a world of rainbows and tampons where reality and fantasy intermingle. As Lux, the only sister allowed a singular personality, Kirsten Dunst brings a remarkably knowing air to her character, suggesting that oddly feline quality of young women. James Woods and Kathleen Turner as the girls' stilted and repressed parents both turn in remarkably restrained performances, cast against type. Woods in particular gives what may be the most sensitively nuanced performance of his career.

The film moves confidently through its opening sequences, establishing its characters and locale with energy and zest. Coppola frequently frames moments as if taking a still photograph, aiding the film's air of suffocating memory: a mother washing dishes, the assorted clutter of a young girl's bedroom, or a boy locked in the lonely late-night world inside his headphones. Explosions of energy - the dance, Trip's stoner-elegant swagger to the spacy wail of 'Magic Man', the dance - and a sly, off-balance sense of humour keep the film feeling brisk even as it delves deeper into a world of silent hysteria.

Having so deftly created this overall milieu and tone, it's disappointing when the film splutters towards its finale. Following the homecoming, as the boys watch dumbfounded while the girls begin the grim slide towards their demise, Coppola doesn't quite seem to know where to go and begins to rely on trickery - time-lapse photography or split-screen effects - that feels more like straw-grasping than skilful control. The central enigma regarding the girls' inexplicable motives becomes central too late. Similarly, the ludicrously unnecessary sequence near the end in which a fashionable debutante party is celebrated with an asphyxiation theme falls too far into grotesquerie. Altogether a mixed bag, The Virgin Suicides is nevertheless a noteworthy debut. Coppola proves herself a director of burgeoning talent, as well as a sensitive screenwriter. If her missteps hold the film back from achieving the full grandeur it aims for, there is no denying the way it conjures a magic-realist American suburbia, rarely before brought so convincingly to life.


Sofia Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola
Julie Costanzo
Chris Hanley
Dan Halsted
Sofia Coppola
Based on the novel by
Jeffrey Eugenides
Director of Photography
Edward Lachman
James Lyons
Melissa Kent
Production Designer
Jasna Stefanovic
©Virgin Suicides, LLC
Production Companies
American Zoetrope presents a Muse production in association with Eternity Pictures
Executive Producers
Fred Fuchs
Willi Baer
Fred Roos
Gary Marcus
Line Producer
Suzanne Colvin
Associate Producer
Jordan Gertner
Muse Production Executive
Timothy Peternel
Production Services, Toronto
Dufferin Gate Productions
Production Co-ordinator
Keitha Redmond
Production Managers
Suzanne Colvin
2nd Unit LA:
Livia Perez-Borrero
Location Manager
Michael Blecher
Locations Consultant
2nd Unit LA:
Mike Fantasia
Post-production Supervisors
James R. Rosenthal
David Bailey
2nd Unit Director
Roman Coppola
Assistant Directors
Tom Quinn
Chris Binney
Al Buchok
2nd Unit Toronto:
David MacDonald
Stewart Young
Script Supervisors
Winnifred Jong
2nd Unit Toronto:
Stephanie Miller
2nd Unit LA:
Haley McLane
John Buchan
Linda Phillips-Palo
Robert McGee
Roz Music
Hayley Marcus
Plaster Casting
Stuart Howard Associates
Jane Alderman Casting
2nd Unit Toronto Director of Photography
Paul van der Linden
Vacation Photo Montage
Johannes Gamble
Diary Montage
Fantasy II Film Effects
Special Effects Co-ordinators
Jordan Craig
John Laforet
Nigel Churcher
Diary Montage Editor
Haines Hall
Art Directors
Jon Goulding
2nd Unit LA:
Linda Spheeris
Set Decorators
Megan Less
2nd Unit Toronto:
Tom Thompson
2nd Unit LA:
Linda Spheeris
Storyboard Artist
Victor Renaldi
Costume Designer
Nancy Steiner
Costume Co-ordinator
Judith England
Key Make-up Artist
Kathleen Graham
Make-up/Hair Stylist
2nd Unit LA:
Roz Music
Key Hairstylist
G.E. 'Freddie' Godden
Title Design
Geoff McFetridge
Champion Graphics
Title House
Optical Line-up
Dennis Dorney
Additional Music Composition
Richard Beggs
Music Supervisor
Brian Reitzell
Music Editor
Richard Beggs
"On the Horizon", "How Many Times", "End It Peacefully", "Everything" "You've Done Wrong", "The Good in Everyone" by Sloan; "The Air That I Breathe" by The Hollies; "Magic Man", "Crazy on You" by Heart; "Strange Magic" by ELO; "Come Sail Away" by Styx; "Alone Again (Naturally)" by Gilbert O'Sullivan; "So Far Away" by Carole King; "A Dream Goes on Forever", "Hello It's Me" by Todd Rundgren; "Ce matin là" by Air; "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" by Al Green; "I'm Not in Love" by 10cc; "Run to Me" by Bee Gees
Sound Design
Richard Beggs
Sound Recordist
Henry Embry
Sound Mixer
2nd Unit LA:
Felipe Borrero
Re-recording Mixers
Richard Beggs
Kent Sparling
Recording Supervisors
Robert Knox
Brian Sarvis
Ethan Derner
Pete Horner
Supervising Sound Editor
Galen Walker
Dialogue Editors
Keith Burhans
Erik Blank
Jesse Pomeroy
Laura Laird
Roy Wes Otis
Additional Sound Effects Editor
Jussi Tegelman
Jesse Pomeroy
Loop Group:
Sounds Great
Robert Serda
Doug Andorka
Keith Burhans
Erik Blank
Jesse Pomeroy
Laura Laird
Roy Wes Otis
Gretchen Thoma
Sanaa Cannella
Sean Keegan
James Woods
Ronald A. Lisbon
Kathleen Turner
Mrs Lisbon
Kirsten Dunst
Lux Lisbon
Josh Hartnett
Trip Fontaine
A.J. Cook
Mary Lisbon
Hanna Hall
Cecilia Lisbon
Leslie Hayman
Therese Lisbon
Chelse Swain
Bonnie Lisbon
Anthony DeSimone
Chase Buell
Lee Kagan
David Barker
Robert Schwartzman
Paul Baldino
Noah Shebib
Parkie Denton
Jonathan Tucker
Tim Weiner
Michael Paré
adult Trip Fontaine
Scott Glenn
Father Moody
Danny DeVito
Doctor E.M. Horniker
Joe Roncetti
Kevin Head
Hayden Christensen
Jake Hill Conley
Chris Hale
Peter Sisten
Joe Dinicol
Dominic Palazzolo
Dan Belley
Dominic's stunt double
Suki Kaiser
Lydia Perl, TV reporter
Dawn Greenhalgh
Mrs Scheer
Allen Stewart-Coates
Mr Scheer
Sherry Miller
Mrs Buell
Jonathan Whittaker
Mr Buell
Michèle Duquet
Mrs Denton
Murray McRae
Mr Denton
Roberta Hanley
Mrs Weiner
Paul Sybersma
Joe Larson
Susan Sybersma
Mrs Larson
Peter Snider
Trip's dad
Gary Brennan
Charles Boyland
Curt Van Osdol
Dustin Ladd
Chip Willard
Kirsten Fairlie
Amy Schraff
Melody Johnson
Sheyla Molho
Ashley Ainsworth
Sheila Davis
Courtney Hawkrigg
François Klanfer
MacKenzie Lawrenz
Jim Czeslawski
Tim Hall
Kurt Siles
Amos Crawley
Andrew Gillies
Principal Woodhouse
Mairlyn Smith
Mrs Woodhouse
Sally Cahill
Mrs Hedlie
Tracey Ferencz
Scott Denton
Mr O'Conner
Catherine Swing
Mrs O'Conner
Tim Adams
Buzz Romano
Michael Miglessi
parks department foreman
Sarah Minhas
Wanda Brown
Megan Kennedy
Sandi Stahlbrand
Meredith Thompson, TV reporter
Neil Girvan
drunk man in pool
Jaya Karsemeyer
Leah Straatsma
Mark Polley
Kirk Gonnsen
cemetery workers
Marianne Maroney
Ann Wessels
woman in chiffon
Giovanni Ribisi
Pathé Distribution
8,722 feet
96 minutes 55 seconds
Dolby Digital
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011