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R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 05/04/2000,

The Virgin Suicides

For her first movie Sofia Coppola sure took on a challenging book to adapt: Jeffrey Eugenides's The Virgin Suicide tells its fey tale with a first-person plural narrator. That's hard enough to manage in prose (in the book the "we" voice is precious, offputting, and occasionally poetic); in a movie, it's simply weird. Nonetheless, Coppola makes the most of it, employing the engaging off-screen voice of Giovanni Ribisi to intone the Greek chorus of boys who are beguiled and bewildered by the five Lisbon sisters, tow-headed teenagers growing up in a Michigan suburb in the '70s who decide, for some reason or other, to end it all.

Maybe it's the drab and tacky decor and costumes; that was one ugly decade, and this film's cinematography does it justice. As for the female mystery, the enigmatic girls (Kirsten Dunst is the most memorable, as the slut) turn out to be ciphers, and neither is much light shed on the collective male psyche trying to come to grips with them. Multiplying the elusive girls and the voyeuristic boys only underscores their vapidity. Kathleen Turner brings some feeling to the girls' mother, a Bible-thumping, repressive stereotype, but James Woods steals the show as the befuddled and increasingly balmy dad. As for Coppola, she shows a lot of her father's audacity but as yet not much of his talent.

-- Peter Keough