I recently read Kathleen Turner’s memoir, Send Yourself Roses: Thoughts on My Life, Love, and Leading Roles, and in one chapter she describes how she was reunited with her bratty little sister from Peggy Sue Got Married, Sofia Coppola. Turner explains that although someone else owned the rights to Jeffery Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, Sofia felt so strongly about it that she developed the script anyway. She described the novel as “a classic, and you don't read that many contemporary ones that feel like that.” Eventually the rights were released and Sofia was there to grab them with a script ready to be turned into her debut film.
The Virgin Suicides is the story of five sisters in 1970s suburban Michigan and the events surrounding their lives and ultimately their deaths. Relayed partially from the perspective of a group of neighborhood boys who become fixated with the girls, a voice-over by Giovanni Ribisi takes us back to that time trying to comprehend why the sisters and the family spiral out of control. The reason the youngest descended into a deep depression and gave up on life is a mystery. The family does their best to cope with her death, but after the girls attend a homecoming dance the parents, already overly protective and concerned, take a turn for the wacky. In a final act of paranoia, the mother withdraws all four girls from school and keeps them locked indoors, all day, every day. After months of confinement, the girls attempt to communicate with the neighborhood boys through cryptic messages until one night the sisters finally decide to end it all.
The subject matter of The Virgin Suicides is so tragic, intense, and weird that it is gently funny. Does that make sense? Sofia Coppola offers an explanation as to what initially drew her to the story’s melancholy mystery, “There are so many things in life that you can't explain. No matter how hard you look, you can't find an explanation for it. And I think that's what I liked about the story.” Her adaptation faithfully captures all of the dream-like visuals, language, and gentle humor from Eugenides’ book. Note that the soundtrack by the French group Air provides the perfect ephemeral background music for Sofia's debut as director. Like the novel, the film is a descriptive masterpiece with an obsessive quality to every detail.
Written and Directed by Sofia Coppola
Produced by Francis Ford Coppola
Narrated by Giovanni Ribisi
Starring James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, Danny DeVito, Hanna Hall, Leslie Hayman, A. J. Cook, Chelse Swain
Soundtrack by Air