The Virgin Suicides (1999)
The kind of teen girls’ coming-of-age tale that, in retrospect, seems such a perfect fit for Coppola’s empathetic eye, Jeffrey Eugenides’ 1993 novel introduced the first-time director to Kirsten Dunst, a friend and muse who cameos briefly in The Bling Ring, and won her influential admirers in the critical community.
“When I made [1998 short film] Lick The Star it felt like something I knew how to do, but if I hadn’t made The Virgin Suicides then I probably wouldn’t have thought to direct a movie. In fact, I still wasn’t thinking I’d direct a movie! (Sonic Youth’s) Thurston Moore introduced me to the book and I just loved it so much that when I heard someone was adapting it, my first thought was, “Oh, I hope they don’t mess it up!” I started working on a script and somehow convinced the producers to let me do it. When I was growing up a lot of teen movies felt artificial, with 30 year-olds playing teenagers, so I wanted to make something that I could really tune into. Besides John Hughes’ movies, which I loved, there wasn’t always a lot of care put into having beautiful cinematography in kids’ movies either. You know, I felt they should have good aesthetics, too."
Another writer’s stab at adapting The Virgin Suicides dosed it with an odd concoction of sex and violence that horrified Coppola. Fearing for the purity of Eugenides’ novel, she set to work on an alternative screenplay that, against her dad’s advice, was successfully pitched to Muse Productions and scored her a debut directorial job.
“That’s me as a young’un. I’ve always enjoyed working with actors and I haven’t really changed the way I work with them since then. I just try to be open to things. A lot of it is in the casting, in picking people who see the character the same way you do and in trusting them going into it. Part of the process of meeting actors before you shoot is about finding people who see it like you. Then you let them do their thing."