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The Goddaughters

Sofia Coppola mixes nostalgia, suburbia, and teen lust into a volatile blend in The Virgin Suicides.

The angels of lust and melancholy provide the counterbalance for the rest of the movie, as the randy, all-American blonde, Lux (such a common conservative Catholic name, that), discovers some wild oats growing in her field and takes to inscribing the name of the sexy garbageman on her panties. Her favor for the sanitation engineer swiftly declines, however, when roguish Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett) falls madly for her, the only girl in school upon whom his charms do not instantly work. As the neighborhood boys continue their fascinated vigil ("We learned that they knew everything about us, and we couldn't fathom them at all"), Lux and bad boy Trip grow closer until, via some miracle, Trip and his friends manage to score dates with the Lisbon girls for the homecoming dance (a swooningly glittery affair created by production designer Jasna Stefanovic). That night, as curfews, hearts, plausibility (these girls are worried about anti-Semitism? Uh-huh, sure) and stringent parental guidelines are broken, a terrible new order descends upon the Lisbon home, where the girls begin their slow suffocation.

Coppola has a way with actors, pulling knowing performances out of Turner and Woods that make you chuckle at the notion that these two were ever perceived of as a sexpot and a tough guy. She also coaxes terrific work out of the five sisters, a tricky feat considering that they're essentially an allegorical presence, representing both budding passion and detached beauty. And Hartnett is hilarious, seeming for all the world like an extra from Dazed and Confused, his period-specific haircut forming his head into the shape of the penis that guides his actions. Cocooned in a soundtrack heavy on '70s staples (Heart's "Crazy on You" fits in nicely here) mixed with the atmospheric nuances of the group Air, these actors feel like the real thing.

The girls next door (from left): Chelse Swain, Kirsten Dunst, Leslie Hayman and A.J. Cook are four of the five Lisbon sisters in The Virgin Suicides.
The girls next door (from left): Chelse Swain, Kirsten Dunst, Leslie Hayman and A.J. Cook are four of the five Lisbon sisters in The Virgin Suicides.

The work is particularly impressive, given that the director freely admits that she lacks firsthand knowledge of suburban living. She certainly gets the colloquialisms ("Want some more pop?") and the landscape (diseased trees reduced to stumps) on the nose. True, there's nothing new here, and Coppola's cultural appraisal isn't as ballsy and radical as she seems to think, but The Virgin Suicides may stand -- for the collapsed fantasies, libidinous freedom and cold reprobation of the age -- as a significant document of the daydream. Did our world really look like this? Were those princesses ever really there? The movie wisely leaves us to wonder.

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