Until "The Virgin Suicides", the mere mention of Sofia Coppola caused cackles for it was she, in "The Godfather Part III", directed by her father Francis, who looked as if she was trying to get her lines in the right order while reading them off Al Pacino's forehead. So excruciating an experience was this for her (and us) that "The Godfather Part III" doesn't even appear on her CV.
Just as Saab and Skoda have been reinvented as classy car companies, so Ms Coppola, as director of "The Virgin Suicides", has comprehensively replaced our laughter with huge admiration. An always impressive tale of teenage insecurity, deprivation, angst, and lust, it is way ahead of standard-issue American teen tales in both its intelligent ambition and subtle execution.
"The Virgin Suicides" is the contemplative but always thrilling story of a group of teenage boys who become fixated with five neighbourhood sisters whose lives are swamped by the demands of their neurotic mother (Kathleen Turner). As a final act of paranoid, over-protective parental concern, she takes all five out of school and keeps them locked indoors, all day, every day.
All actors involved, including James Woods as the weak, nervy, nice-guy father, hit their mark every time. So does Sofia Coppola. With a keen eye for the unsettling reality of teen life (for example, youngsters fancying each other with their folks in the room), Coppola has given her tightly-knit tapestry the momentum of a thriller, and her creative approach to many scenes (for instance a conversation shot through a small window) is matched by her use of music in all the right places. For once music, like everything else in the film, is not a lazy afterthought.