Candy Looks at One of Her Favorite Directors: Sofia Coppola

I believe my love for Sofia Coppola is well-known, but I recently revisited most of her films, and I came to realize that I love her work even more than I had known. She definitely has a style all her own, and she is a master of atmosphere, music, and style – not to mention that she excels at finding and sharing moments . . . those moments that make us all feel a tug in our gut and a little swelling in our throats when we recognize a little bit of ourselves and our lives in her work.

The Virgin Suicides

On the surface the Lisbons appear to be a healthy successful 1970s family living in a middle-class Michigan suburb. Mr. Lisbon is a math teacher; his wife is a rigid, religious mother of five attractive teenage daughters who catch the eyes of the neighborhood boys. However, when 13-year-old Cecilia commits suicide, the family spirals downward into a creepy state of isolation, and the remaining girls are quarantined from social interaction (particularly from the opposite sex) by their zealously protective mother. But the strategy backfires–their seclusion makes the girls even more intriguing to the obsessed boys who will go to absurd lengths for a taste of the forbidden fruit. (from Wikipedia)

I remember seeing this film at the theater when it came out, and feeling transported back into the 70s for a good two hours. The film was atmospheric, well-acted, and unsettling. I both loved it and was a bit mesmerized by it at the same time. However, I knew that I had seen something interesting that I had not seen before.

Watching the film years later, I see even more than I remember from the first viewing, and I find it much more haunting. I know that a lot of credit is due Jeffrey Eugenides for his novel upon which this film is based, but Sofia Coppola took the story and made it into a work of art. And each time I watch the film, I grab onto something else that touches me and/or disturbs me. I also have to give credit to the amazing soundtrack by Air. It’s fan-freaking-tastic.

I have several favorite moments in the film, and most of them involve Josh Hartnett as Trip Fontaine. I never knew a Trip Fontaine when I was in high school, but I always wanted to. When I saw this film in the theaters with my mother, we both heaved a gigantic sigh when Trip was on screen, because he was so hot and dreamy and charismatic. Was he a jerk? Oh sure – all Trip Fontaines are; but it’s easy to see why Lux was taken in by him. I’ve known a Magic Man or two, and though they were nowhere near as amazingly hot as Trip–they had the same effect on me.

Kirsten Dunst is fabulous as Lux, and she perfectly embodies the character of a mixed-up, curious, passionate 14-year-old who finds the only way she can to deal with her sadness and desperation is through her sexuality. Dunst plays both sides of the Lux coin flawlessly, easily becoming both childlike and naughtily precocious at the same time, as needed. She’s in over her head, but she enjoys it and flourishes under all of the attention showered upon her by the opposite sex.

Another of my favorite “characters” in the film is the musical score. As I mentioned, I love the Air music that serves as the soundtrack, but the 70s music chosen for the film is dead-on. I love the way “Magic Man” by  Heart is used, as well as “Crazy on You.” And every time now that I hear “Come Sail Away,” I see the dance scenes from the film in my mind. That’s pretty powerful stuff! Other great songs that perfectly capture the time are: “I’m Not in Love” (10CC), “Strange Magic” (ELO), “Run to Me” (The Bee Gees), “Alone Again” (Gilbert O’Sullivan), and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” (Al Green).

I would imagine it’s very hard to capture a story such as this on film, and to get it so right. The film is filled with optimism and yet just as full of pessimism. The Lisbon sisters are young and bright and full of life. They grab onto each little bit of life that they are able to capture in brief moments, and their desperate souls feed off of these moments. They are stifled by their parents’ (especially their mother’s) fear, overprotectiveness, and religious beliefs. Their parents’ very desire to keep the girls pure and clean and out of trouble leads to tragic downfall of all of their daughters. The parents’ lack of knowledge and parenting skills in dealing with the death of their youngest daughter is the catalyst for the fall of the entire family.

There are so many themes that the movie (and book) touch upon: emerging sexuality; suburban life; community; isolation; misguided intentions; strict religion; hypocrisy–there’s just so much going on. And Coppola pulls it off wonderfully, somehow managing to fit in all of the themes and jumbled emotions that are necessary in relating the story of the doomed Lisbon sisters.


Lost in Translation

Coppola’s second feature film centers on a aging actor and a recent college graduate who develop a unique closeness after a chance meeting in a grand hotel in Tokyo. The movie explores themes of loneliness, alienation, insomnia, existential ennui, and culture shock, against the backdrop of a modern Japanese cityscape.

This film killed me . . . it just killed me. I enjoyed it while I was watching it for the first time, but the ending just did me in. I’m not sure if it’s just that it was so unexpected and so heart-wrenching, or if I was just at a place in my life in which that sort of ending really touched me deep down, or if I was just overly emotional. But I cried at the ending; and I sat in the theater and cried some more. And I cried on the way home. I just think the ending is fabulous.

Charlotte is bored. Her husband is off working all of the time, and she’s stuck in a Tokyo hotel with not much to do. She doesn’t speak the language; she doesn’t have a lot of money to spend; and she’s not necessarily motivated to get out and deal with people. When she meets Bob in the bar, she discovers that she has found a kindred spirit. He seems to be just as lost as she, and he is interesting and experienced and jaded–everything that she is, and is attracted to. They hit it off in a major way and enjoy every moment of being together. Until Bob’s testosterone appears and he pulls a typical male move that really rubs Charlotte the wrong way, and causes her to realize that he’s just like her squirrely husband deep-down.

I can truly relate to Charlotte in so many ways. Feeling out of sorts and out of place when everyone around you seems to know where they are going and what they are doing. Feeling bored and unmotivated in a life that is often uninteresting to her. And when you live this sort of life–then run across a kindred spirit–it’s a beautiful thing. Suddenly you don’t feel so alone; you actually want to laugh and take risks . . . and to let go. It’s a wonderful feeling to let go.

Charlotte knows that Bob is older; that she’s married; and that they face many obstacles–but she can’t really help the way she feels when she’s with him. Bob knows that he’s way too old for Charlotte; that she’s probably just bored and will easily grow bored with him soon; and that “they” will never work. The audience knows all of this, too, but they are still rooting for the two of them to throw caution to the wind and go for it anyway. Instead, we get a touching, heart-breaking, somewhat optimistic ending that tears the heart out of a romantic. The film actually celebrates the beauty of an honest friendship between a man and a woman, and emphasizes the fact that sometimes, in fact many times,  that’s enough.

Bill Murray is just wonderful in this role. He’s charismatic and funny and humble, despite the fact that he’s playing an actor. Scarlett Johannsen is in a star-making role, playing both strength and vulnerability with a tender grace. The scenery is gorgeous; the acting is wonderful; and the soundtrack is, once again, dead-on.

I am a sucker for movies about love that just can’t happen, movies about emotional longing. I’m also a sucker for films about those little moments spent with someone special that provide us with enough sustenance to make it through the life we actually have to  live. Bob and Charlotte will go back to their own lives, and they won’t be terrible–but I’ll bet you that both of them revisit that place and that time together in Tokyo on a regular basis, in their minds. I can speak from experience, as I’m sure many of us can.


Marie Antoinette

An electrifying, yet intimate, re-telling of the turbulent life of history’s favorite villainess. Kirsten Dunst plays the ill-fated princess who marries France’s young and indifferent King Louis XVI. Feeling isolated in a royal court rife with scandal and intrigue, Marie Antoinette defied both royalty and the commoner by living like a rock star, which served only to seal her fate. (from Sony Pictures)

I sincerely love this movie, despite the fact that it’s been panned by just about everyone. A number of feminists hate it, critics hate it, film buffs hate it–heck, my dog probably even hates it, but I think it’s just dreamy. I’m a girl, but not a “girly-girl”–most of my close friends are guys, and you’re more likely to find me playing fantasy football than getting a manicure or wearing a skirt. However, I love every girly, fluffy, decadent, pink-ribboned, glorious thing about this film.

Many people hate it because it seems to sympathize with a universally vilified historical figure, embodying her with traits that she did not actually possess. I’m actually surprised by how much I love the character of Marie Antoinette here, because I’m normally completely put off by everything that she seemingly stands for: privilege, entitlement,  wealth, and power. But what Coppola has done here is to tell the tale of  a child, thrust into an adult world in which she is forced to give up everything she’s ever known and transformed into someone that even she no longer recognizes. Her childhood is over before she’s even had time to live it. I can sympathize with her, and I envy her, as she’s everything I would love to be–girly, brash, outspoken, gorgeous, sexy, and smart.

Many people hate that Coppola paired this period piece with “contemporary” new-wave music, seeing this is a desperate ploy in an attempt to be cutting edge. I think the soundtrack is fantastic, and it never takes me out of the atmosphere of the film. Sure, it was pretty ballsy to weave 80s music throughout this period piece, but it works well, and I think it only serves to emphasize the universal and timeless themes of the movie.

Many hate that the film is viewed as a feminist film, but I don’t understand what is NOT feminist about this film. If you have a low IQ, sure, you might see Marie as vapid and submissive, but those of us who think on a daily basis (!!) can see where Coppola was going with this. Marie is a victim of the society into which she was born, and most women of that time did not have a strong voice. When she is eating bon-bons and joyously poring over dresses and shoes, I view this as her way of thumbing her nose at all of those who believe she should behave a certain way or should maintain a particular facade of grace when out among her people. She can’t really stand or respect the people around whom she must live her life, so why not enjoy the extravagances offered up to her, in an effort to be a kid again, and to rebel? Why not play the role that has been thrust upon her to the hilt?

Marie is a stranger in a strange land, where customs and society’s mores are much different from all that she has known thus far. She is young and goes into her marriage with a positive outlook, secretly hoping to find the love and devotion, and definitely the passion, that every girl dreams of. When she is ignored and shunned, used only for her child-bearing capabilities,  she puts her big-girl pants on and takes charge of her own life. She sets about becoming more and more outrageous, going against everything that is expected of her.

Is the film historically accurate? Absolutely not–and it doesn’t claim to be. The accents are all over the place; great liberties are taken with the facts; and speculations abound. This is just a film – about a girl. Kirsten Dunst is fantastic in the lead role–I can’t imagine anyone else as Marie Antoinette after seeing this. If you have any preconceived notions about this film, check them at the door and rent this . . . I think you might be surprised.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s