The Virgin Suicides is ostensibly a mystery, but first-time director Sofia Coppola, who also adapted the Jeffrey Eugenides novel, isn’t concerned so much with what or why, but when and who. The “when” is the mid 1970s, the “where” is suburban America, the “who” are five teenage sisters, whose suicide makes a big impact on some neighbourhood boys (one of whom narrates the film as an adult).Thanks in no small part to Edward Lachman’s hazy cinematography, The Virgin Suicides lulled me into a deeply nostalgic mood about endless summer school holidays, growing up in the 1970s. The dreaminess is enhanced by french pop group Air’s sublime soundtrack. Like Paul Thomas Anderson, Coppola knows how to use pop music on a soundtrack. There are several superb sequences (at a school dance, playing records over the telephone) where songs you may have heard on the radio long ago are suddenly in your consciousness, adding to the feelings of a scene, triggering long-forgotten memories.
The five teenage sisters (led by Kirsten Dunst) are all wonderful. Over the course of the movie, we learn enough about each to get a glimpse of their characters - but not enough to erase the mystique felt by the boys, who never get a chance to know them. Their strict parents are Kathleen Turner and James Woods, both playing vigorously against type - she without glamour, he without any of his usual sharpness.The Virgin Suicides does meander a little, but it’s worth the ride. A dreamy, evocative and strikingly beautiful film.