The Virgin Suicides

Friday, January 1, 1999

Forget DeVito. Why you wanna go and do that? I mean, I don't want to denigrate the guy's performance in Twins or anything, or the one in Get Shorty, but I'm seeing previews for Screwed, and if you've seen 'em you know what I mean, and then he shows up in Virgin Suicides, and I'm thinking, why does it have to be DeVito? His and Scott Glenn's token single-scene appearances in The Virgin Suicides are the loud mark of either someone's (studio's) desire to have bankable names to show in the previews, or those actors' desire a) to work on an adaptation of a very good book they 1) read or 2) heard about, or b) to work with a Coppola, either x) because Coppolas have a lot of pull in H'Wood, or y) because DeVito really had a good time working on Jack/The Rainmaker. It's distracting.

It's hard to know whether to extend this dismissal to James Woods and Kathleen Turner as the Lisbon parents, or not. Mad at DeVito's pointless presence, I started off mad at Woods and Turner too, at the casting director and the names you can get merely by being a Coppola, unless of course they'd been familiar with Sofia Coppola's oeuvre of 16mm B/W shorts about high school girls, shown with some frequency between features and Buick commercials on Bravo.

Either through acting or merely having enough screen time to cancel the novelty stigma (I can't tell which), they cease to be cameos and become, one way or another, performances. Dislike of studio practices becomes dislike of characters, a mild frustration at Woods' prematurely doddering, impactless Mr. Lisbon, hen-pecked but never quite put-upon as in the book, a man by his own admission powerless over his wife's command - but this film Lisbon {one cue too many from Jim Backus in Rebel Without A Cause never takes the responsibility to which he owns up in the book, neither for the financial upkeep of a large family or for the events. Woods conveys a man who goes slightly loopy - but here he is knocked for a loop by the circumstances, not by his role in the whole thing.

Mrs. Lisbon is tough. She needs to be a tyrant repressively, not oppressively, caring for the girls but unaware of which problems are significant and where they come from. Turner, ostensibly hired for her career of playing various types of toughness, seems uncertain of which applies here (V.I. Warshawski tough? Serial Mom tough? Body Heat tough?) and plays it blandly, tough without Serial Mom viciousness or Body Heat control.

Someone [LA Weekly] knocks Coppola for making the girls "all raving beauties" but this is off base. To read the book is to know the girls' raving beauty, with or without the very slight amount of physical description offered ("short, round-buttocked in denim..."), and to understand the book is to give in to its subjectivity with regard to the Lisbons, and maybe Coppola actually goes get the point, casting metaphorically. The beauty of the actresses [and it should be noted that hey, maybe there are some folks who think they're not all that attractive (maybe, in a supremely hypothetical aside to Coppola's utmost theoretical credit, the actresses are quite homely, and the LA Weekly and I just remember them as beautiful because of the movie!)] is a symbol for the beauty they would have even if they weren't so nice-looking. Maybe it's a young-male* attitude for me not to have been taken aback by the toothsome Lisbon casting, assuming that ALL the girls in the book are raving beauties unless specifically contradicted, from Sarah Sheed on up/around. Find me an ugly girl in the movie. Unfortunately, it's hard to tell whether there are none because Coppola agrees with me or because she just casts Hollywood, viz. young and cute.

*Regardless of how it may seem by advertising/reviews/etc., this is a book for young (/old) men (/boys). Also for young (/etc.) women, but I think, from my young-male demographic, that the girls will watch/read it and feel for the girls in their predicament, and feel deeply, but the boys will know (if not admit) that this is a book about boys feeling things, such as love, and horrible unspeakable crippling torment. You know, kid stuff. The girls feel helplessness. The boys feel the girls' helplessness (as much as empathy can be real) and their own compounded helplessness at that of the girls. Girls reading, if they're on top of their game, will get the boys' feelings, but I'm not sure they hit the full effect:

real boys reading {<real boys (real girls)> reading deeply [ boys (girls)]


Eventually I realized that Coppola had inadvertently gotten it right. I wanted DeVito gone, and I wanted Glenn out, and then that spread to Woods and Turner, and not only that, I wanted Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon gone. So does everyone else. It's not that they're such horrible people; they're strict but not strictly abusive, and all parents have to lay down the law, even if an hour of film time leads to a terrible hindsight, and it's not their fault Cecilia's the way she is. We just want them gone to deal with our kid emotions in peace.

The Lisbons know it's not their parents' fault, somewhere subconscious maybe. It's why any eventual escape plan they may formulate isn't reliant upon escape from the parents, but escape from the problems. The boys think escape from the parents is all the Lisbons need, or know it's not but hope it is, or know it's not but hope the girls think it is, or just can't face anything else, can't blame Cecilia, it's the way she was, and if that's genetic, the parents' fault, then the other Lisbons are of the same stuff, and must revert to the simplest fantasy of parents being gone so they can fall in love and be shy and not kill themselves and be kids.

Reviewed by Matthew Abrams
The Hills Have Eyes 2

Hostel Part II

Six Degrees



Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip


The Hills Have Eyes

Love Monkey

Out of Practice

Head Cases

Crunchwrap Supreme

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Batman Begins

Garden State


13 Going On 30



Kill Bill, Vol. 2

Line of Fire

We Shall All Be Healed

Happy Family

Arrested Development

Love Actually

A Minute with Stan Hooper


Karen Sisco

Stop All the World Now

Cold Case



Joan of Arcadia



Lost In Translation

House of 1000 Corpses

Bubba Ho-Tep

Darkness Falls

Pirates of the Caribbean

The Amazing Race

Treasure Island



To Hit Armor Class Zero

Without A Trace

8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter

Life With Bonnie

JalapeƱo Cheeseburger

The Mothman Prophecies

Happy Campers

The Man Who Wasn't There

Kiss of the Dragon

Josie & the Pussycats

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Dr. Pepper

Know By Heart

Waking Life


Thirteen Ghosts

Earthlink presents Chang and Eng

New York and Country Bar


Motivation and Water Tower Grammar

Crossing Philly

Makeout Club


The Gap

The Abolition of Work

3000 Miles to Graceland



The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Diesel Sweeties

The Cold Six Thousand

The Grilled Stuft Burrito (Rebuttal)

60 Second Wipeout

The Patriot

Grilled Stuft Burrito



Frankenfinger E.P.

One Force Down


Both Our Secrets

Happy Birthday Captain Columbus!

Fight Club

Whatever It Takes


That Skinny Motherfucker with the High Voice?

Joe Dirt

The Veggie Whopper

Taco Bell Nachos


Godzilla vs. Monster Zero

The Terror of Mechagodzilla

To The Center


American Psycho

The Del Shredder

What Lies Beneath

The Cheesy Gordita Crunch

Bring It On

Chill Factor

Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars

Bad Company

The Blair Witch Project

Hyacinths and Thistles

Lake of Dracula

We'll Have a Time

Home Depot

Snow Day

The Virgin Suicides