The Lisbon Girls

by Alan Rapp on October 19, 2006

in DVD Reviews 

  • Title: The Virgin Suicides
  • IMDB: link

“Everyone dates the demise of our neighborhood from the suicides of the Lisbon girls.  People saw their clairvoyance in the wiped out elms, the harsh sunlight, and the continuing decline of our auto industry.  Even as teenagers we tried to put the pieces together; we still can’t.  Now, whenever we run into each other at business lunches or cocktail parties, we find ourselves in the corner going over the evidence one more time.  All to understand those five girls who, after all these years, we can’t get out of our minds.”

virgin-suicides-posterThe Lisbon girls were beautiful.  The five daughters of Mrs. Lisbon (Kathleen Turner) and Mr. Lisbon (James Woods), a high school teacher, captured the minds and hearts of the neighborhood boys in the early 1970’s in the sleepy Michigan suburbs.

The girls, Therese (Leslie Hayman) 17 years-old, Mary (A.J. Cook) 16, Bonnie (Chelse Swain) 15, Lux (Kirsten Dunst) 14, and Cecila (Hanna Hall) 13, would all be gone in the course of a single year.

In the space of two summers the sleepy suburbs would be woken to the deaths of five beautiful young women, all at their own hands.  The haunting suicides would leave behind unfinished dreams and imaginations by the boys they left behind (Anthony DeSimone, Lee Kagan, Robert Schwartzman, Noah Shebib, and Jonathan Tucker).

What caused such events to occur?  The sheltered life of the girls didn’t help matters, nor the strict homelife.  Was that all?  And if so, was there nothing that could be done?  The film’s characters look back with a tearful eye in wonder.

Here I should mention the work of Sophia Coppola who does an amazing job as a first time director in setting the mood, tone, and scope of this period piece.  She scores high marks for me with her use of music, but even higher for her scenes of silence where characters convey complex ideas and emotions effortlessly, without the assistance dialogue or props.  It’s a lost art in film today and I’m more than happy to applaud it whenever I can.

Josh Hartnett has a good role, and more surprising gives a good performance, as Trip Fontaine, the babe-magnet of the Lisbon girls’ school.  The relationship between Trip and Lux is much like the film, is funny and sweet, as well as out-of-control and ultimately heart-breaking.

Interestingly enough Trip is the only character who we see as an adult (played by Eddie and the Cruisers Michael Pare) explaining his feelings with Lux and the events of that night.  I don’t know why it’s the right choice to only include his adult perspective, aside from the narrator’s, but it is.  And there’s a harsh truth to his feelings that many men may sadly admit to even if they can’t explain.

virgin-suicides-lisbon-girls

I’m not a big fan of Giovanni Ribisi, but as the unseen narrator he gives just the right mix of nostalgia, regret, and puzzlement over the events of his youth.

The only negative I can make about the film is it’s just too short.  It’s 97 minute running time could easily have been given two or even three hours to deal with these characters.  I would have liked to have learned more about the other girls where here we only get to know Lux and Cecilia in any real detail, as well as expanding some of the supporting roles.  Still as a complaint, for a film leaving you wanting more, it’s a small one, and one I’m easily able to forgive.

Sofia Coppola’s first film is an emotionally hauning journey back to a loss of innocence, not only for the Lisbon girls who took their own lives, but for the group of boys whose own lives were forever altered by this series of events.  The film doesn’t try to cast blame or solve the mystery of the why’s behind the suicides.  Instead it celebrates the lives of the girls with a nostalgic meloncholy that wonders about lost chances and missed opportunities.

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