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Heroes of the Zeroes: The Virgin Suicides

by on November 19, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“The Virgin Suicides”
Rated R

A true cusper, “The Virgin Suicides” debuted overseas in 1999, but didn’t screen in the United States until January 2000.

Although “Suicides” barely made the Zeroes, it assuredly reinstated Sofia Coppola’s film privileges after her justifiably maligned turn in “The Godfather Part III.”

Her behind-the-camera debut (adapted from Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel) skillfully spun mordant wit and intense angst into a compelling, ethereal fable about adolescent loss of innocence.

Retrospectively narrated by Giovanni Ribisi, “Suicides” chronicles a year during which five teenaged sisters in suburban Detroit take their lives. Each a year apart in age, 13 to 17, the ticking-clock girls are closed off from socializing in the isolated image of their parents (James Woods and Kathleen Turner).

After the parents relent to the girls’ wish to host a co-ed party, 13-year-old Cecilia (Hanna Hall) leaps to her death — disinterested in being a curiosity that’s pitied, never truly heard. Even her death’s ruled accidental; who could be so sad so young?

Rather than siding with girls and persecuting parents, Coppola employs eloquent empathy, turning to tragedy’s indelible stamp on everyone — how the girls’ sexual wiles (namely Kirsten Dunst’s 14-year-old Lux) and inexplicable woes irreversibly bewitch, bother and bewilder their neighborhood’s boys, even into adulthood.

“Suicides” addresses the absurdity of clinging to misremembered adolescence — namely via a crushing cameo from ’80s hunk Michael Pare as a grown version of Josh Hartnett.

Claustrophobic and uncomfortable, but profoundly affecting and gently funny, “Suicides” advises teen years are sometimes best remembered as a long-ago vacation.