A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Virgin Suicides is a 1999 drama in which a group of sisters whose suicides in the mid-1970s remain a source of mystery 25 years later. An attempted suicide is shown as a 13-year-old girl in a bathtub is rescued after slitting her wrists; there's some blood, and she wears gauze wrapped around her wrists in the ensuing scenes. Later, this same girl is found dead from jumping out of her bedroom window and getting impaled on a spike of the front yard wrought-iron fence. Later suicides are briefly shown or discussed in voice-overs. Adults come across as either clueless or smug in their responses to teen suicide. The local news media comes off as viewing teen suicide as a topic to sensationalize. Teens smoke marijuana, drink to excess, smoke cigarettes. A girl is shown waking up alone in the middle of the football field after having sex with her prom date, who left her there passed out. This girl is later shown having sex on the roof of her house. A mentally challenged teen boy is an object of ridicule by other teens at a basement party. In a brief montage, a series of teen boys brag to other teen boys about the sex or foreplay they claim to have had with the same girl during their dates. Teens and adults are shown getting drunk together at a formal party; adults are unconcerned even as some of the teens start to get out of hand by falling into the pool, throwing up, etc. Occasional profanity includes "s--t," "bitch," and "for Christ's sake."
- Parents say
- Kids say
Good movie for kids 13+ who aren't sensitive babies, but sprouting, maturing, young adults who want to learn some lessons.
What's the story?
Set in the mid-1970s, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES is the story of five exquisitely beautiful sisters who dazzle and beguile the boys around them. Amid the idyllic suburban stillness, there are intimations that all is not right. Huge elm trees are diagnosed with Dutch Elm Disease and ordered to be cut down. And the youngest of the Lisbon girls, only 13, tries to kill herself. The doctor shakes his head, "You're not even old enough to know how bad life gets." She looks up at him, sadly, wrists wrapped in white gauze, "Obviously, doctor, you've never been a 13-year-old girl." A quarter of a century has passed, but the boys who longed for the Lisbon sisters can't forget them. They hold on to relics and totems: a diary, scribbled notes decorated with hearts and stickers. And they tell each other over and over the events of that time, hoping that this time they will make sense. There is no explanation for the unthinkably terrible act, and the movie doesn't try to provide one. Like the boys, we pore over their lives, looking for a point at which they might have made a different choice.
Is it any good?
First-time director Sophia Coppola, who also wrote the screenplay, based on the book by Jeffrey Eugenides, has a wonderful eye for detail and composition. The production design is perfect in every detail. There are painfully accurate moments as teenagers try to make conversation ("How'd your SATs go?" "You're a stone fox!") and connection (when the boys finally call the girls on the phone, all they can bring themselves to do is play records to them). Kirsten Dunst is marvelous as the most adventuresome of the girls, and Josh Hartnett is fine as the high school hunk with a broken heart for every puka shell around his neck. And the narration, beautifully read by Giovanni Ribisi, is lyrical and moving.
But ultimately, the movie falters. It tries for metaphor -- those dying elm trees, an asphyxiation-themed debutante party at which people wear gas masks decorated with glitter, the girls as princesses in a tower waiting for princes who can't save them. And it tries for distance from its time or milieu. But like the collection the boys hold onto for years, the movie has "not life, but the most trivial list of mundane facts."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Virgin Suicides addresses teen suicide. How does it convey a time when society was just beginning to come to grips with the problem? What are the various ways in which the adults respond after the first suicide?
This movie is based on a novel. What would be the challenges in adapting a novel into a movie? How does the movie use different viewpoints in a way that might be similar to a novel?
What are some of the ways in which the mid-1970s are conveyed through things like clothes, music, and rapidly evolving changes in values and beliefs in the culture at large?
- In theaters: May 12, 2000
- On DVD or streaming: December 19, 2000
- Cast: James Woods, Josh Hartnett, Kirsten Dunst
- Director: Sofia Coppola
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Brothers and Sisters, High School
- Run time: 97 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong thematic elements involving teens
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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