Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Virgin Suicides. (1999) Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola's directorial debut from over a decade ago is still a dreamy, atmospheric, suburban fairy tale, somewhat realist, about an over-protective Michigan Christian family so backward the parents smother their teens in isolation. The girls can only respond to their parents' stifling control by the terms of the film's title.

The stifling suburban Michigan parents aren't a joke. There are families like this here in some of the segregated white suburbs of Grand Rapids. The Christian Reformed Church in places like Byron Center makes sure the town responds in subtle rejection if your kids aren't atheletic or sporting blonde heads and tall physiques.

Think I'm kidding? I know a (black-haired) family moving out of Byron Center right now because they are sick of the religious, non-Jesus nature of hard-line, rich conservative "Christians" in the town.

It's funny that churches outside of the Grand Rapids area see a place like Mars Hill as "Hipster" and reactionary to American mainstream Christianity -- in reality, the place might be somewhat reactionary, but the reaction is sometimes more localized, reacting to overbearing Michigan Christian bigots. (I had a hard time putting a capital "C" in that final phrase.)

I read The Virgin Suicides years ago and loved it. The film itself uses a dark approach in humor to give a lift to these repressing themes. The film would suffer without the gentle touch of black comedy. Coppola handed in a winner her first time out, showing she's more than simply her father's daughter, and Kirsten Dunst gave her best performance at a young age, proving long ago she can do more than simply look pretty.

It remains one of my all-time favorite films, and it was a joy to watch again. It takes on a greater significance now that I'm living in West Michigan and have more of a feel for the authenticity at the core of this fictional work.

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