Sofia Coppola had no ambitions to follow in daddy Francis' footsteps until she read Jeffrey Eugenides' cult novel The Virgin Suicides and decided she had to pen a script. It's not surprising that the subject matter struck a chord with her own teen years - a famous dad and a fledgling acting career cut short after a hapless turn in his Godfather III.
All is forgiven, however, because Coppola's directorial debut is a damn sight better than anything her dad has done for years. The Virgin Suicides is essentially an arthouse teen flick, but is far more truthful about the turmoil of adolescence than, say, She's All That. Instead of simple erotic enigmas, the Lisbon girls are believable teenagers, which makes their tragic decline all the more affecting.
Despite the come-hither title, and the Wonder Years-style narration, it's a quiet, sparse film that doesn't tie everything up neatly at the end. Every performance is deftly restrained: James Woods and Kathleen Turner playing their ages for once as the frumpy, sexually repressed parents, Josh Hartnett as the cocky school stud and Kirsten Dunst as Lux, the source of the film's turbulent sensuality. The hypnotic, languid mood recalls Peter Weir's Picnic At Hanging Rock, another film in which teenage girls mysteriously disappear from a restrictive environment. Unlike Weir, though, Coppola has included plenty of laughs, hinging on the innate daftness of lust-crazed teenage boys.
But despite the comedy, the beautiful cinematography and the lush strains of Air's soundtrack, there's a pervading sense of uneasy tension. The lack of explanation is mildly frustrating, but this sublimely confident and poetic debut has the power to endure as far more than just a Coppola-clan curio.
A teen film with a difference, Coppola's debut explores the dark side of adolescence with wit and delicacy. Beautifully shot and acted, it creates a disturbingly erotic atmosphere that more than compensates for the plot's thinness.