Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, James Woods
Director: Sofia Coppola
Running Time: 97 mins
The Virgin Suicides is an American film about a group of teenage boys who become obsessed by the mystery of five girls across the road living sheltered lives under their exceedingly strict parents.
As a film that treads a fine line between dark coming-of-age drama and more optimistic nostalgia, The Virgin Suicides is an impressively engaging, often energetic, and ultimately poignant film. It may not quite pack the intense punch that could have been drawn from its story, and it occasionally fails to really portray a real struggle, however it remains a consistently engrossing and occasionally shocking piece that’s definitely worth the watch.
What interested me most about this film was how it managed to bring a good degree of balance to the lighter and darker side of things. With a premise such as this, it’s rather easy to go into a far more depressing and hopeless atmosphere, however the use of humour from the opening of the first act gives the film a more human and relatable flavour, as well as giving the film an impressively likable energy from the start that helps its coming-of-age plot to work well alongside its other main story.
As the story is told from the perspective of one of the boys that were obsessing over the girls, the film at times comes across as more of a coming-of-age romance than the heavy drama that you may expect. In tandem with that is a good bunch of 80s nostalgia that works well with a good sense of humour early on to draw you into the film’s smalltown setting, as well as engross yourself in the feelings of the main characters throughout.
From then on, the story brings darker themes and events into play, and although it still retains a good energy, the latter half is far heavier than the first, but with some very poignant and powerful moments that not only emphasise the horrors that the girls are put through, but also brings a rather impressive portrayal of loss of innocence, as the boys – still treating their awkward relationship with the girls as somewhat of a game – are drastically thrown into a darker world, proving a powerful shock in the middle of the film.
That’s where The Virgin Suicides impresses, however I have to say that, while it’s an undoubtedly engrossing and ultimately powerful watch, I felt that it was just missing something to really make its story truly hard-hitting right the way through.
I definitely appreciated the lighter side of things during the first act, but I also felt that what was missing was a more visible and deliberately angering struggle on the part of the girls as they’re forced to live in near solitude at home, something that could have made their story arc all the more impacting even when things may be looking up for them.
What’s more is that I really took issue with the way the film’s narration plays out. While having the story told from a now older boy looking back on the events did work for the nostalgic and coming-of-age elements, having it told in non-linear fashion at points really took away from some of the film’s most powerful moments, instead turning them into frustrating inevitabilities, with the girls’ sheltered existence coming less as a shock, and more as a rather predictable and less than impacting side of the story.
Overall, I liked The Virgin Suicides. It’s an engrossing watch throughout that isn’t overly miserable, with its dark drama nicely contrasted by some lighter teenage nostalgia, while its most powerful moments really are impressively poignant. However, with a lack of really hard-hitting drama or a real sense of struggle, the movie often fails to work the potential of its story to the full throughout, and feels like somewhat of a missed opportunity, which is why I’m giving it a 7.4 overall.