Written & Directed by Sofia Coppola, based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides
Starring Kathleen Turner, James Woods, Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, Giovanni Ribisi
My Advice: Matinee.
You are here to be presented with evidence. It's evidence collected over the course of twenty-five long years, ever since the inexplicable suicides of the five Lisbon girls. The formerly infatuated neighborhood boy, now infatuated older man (Ribisi), who presents this evidence to you, is anonymous. But he relates the story to you of what happened, perhaps in the hope that you will have the answers that he and his boyhood friends did not--why did the young girls they adored as children choose to leave the world as they did?
Although we don't necessarily take the quality of adaptation into account when grading a film based on a novel (unless they completely missed the boat and tortured the film stock as a result), the movie manages, even moreso than the book, to draw you into its small web of uncertainty. This stems from Ribisi's narrator and the young boys in the film presenting you with the story, their evidence, their memories--almost as if they were trying to get your opinion of what happened. Almost as if they were trying to get you to provide them with an answer, that perhaps if they show it to one more person, they can get this sequence of events in their lives behind them. This has an interestingly Humbertesque quality about it, this sharing of the story, for just as Nabokov's protagonist lost an early love and could never recover, so too does this Narrator explain at one point how the memories of the Lisbon girls are sometimes better than their flesh and blood wives. It's desperate, it's damning, and it's oddly engaging.
But those were thoughts that came to me after I left the cinema. During, the prevailing thought in my mind was this: the film is an effective and aching portrait of that awkwardness that's unique only to adolescence. One certainly doesn't even have to be a native of the 70's that form the temporal setting of the film--everyone has been through that particular syndrome to one degree or another. The best part of the film is watching the very subtle pieces of that period of youth, all of which Coppola along with her actors have managed to capture. By this, I mean the fumbling hands that never seem to know what to do and when, the strange inability to think of intelligent things to say, and the sudden realization that you are now a sexual being. It's these little things that kept me riveted during the course of the film.
This marks Coppola's directorial debut, and she has much to be proud of. The writing and directing are solid, and despite all the talk about how the film was a comedy, she didn't go the easy route and play the film for badly done dark laughter. The balance between humor and pathos was marvelously done. She was also wise enough to bring some good actors in to help her out. Turner is almost unrecognizable as the girls' strict mother, and James Woods finally manages to find himself in a decent film, in bumbling father mode. Danny DeVito and Scott Glenn have brief cameos as well. The standouts in the cast, though, go to the main teenagers: Dunst and Hartnett. Dunst brings a confused and ethereal sexuality to the role of Lux, as befits the character's name. And as for Hartnett, I first spotted his abilities amidst the muck that was The Faculty, so you know he's got to be good. He's in Jim Morrison lite mode here and it works beautifully. It's also good to see Michael Pare playing his older self.
It's a film that provides no easy answers, and it gets major points for having the cojones not to. Definitely worth a trip to cinema to see, and we'd like to state for the record that we're looking forward to Coppola's next film.
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