Having read Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides, easily one of the most remarkable, haunting novels ever written, I would have said it was impossible to adapt the story to film - and, to some degree, I would have been right. Still, this film adaptation does as fine as job as is humanly possible to bring the ethereal Lisbon girls and the boys obsessed with them and their tragedy to life. It's an excellent, convoluted movie that defies convention and embraces the mystery of the tragedy, but believe me when I say that anyone remotely interested in this movie simply must read the original novel. This movie offers just the first taste of a surreal and tragic story that haunts the reader as much as the suicides haunt the lives of the boys still trying to understand the mystery of the Lisbon girls they adored in ways they could never have put into words. The true magic of the story isn't the sequence of tragic events that unfold; it's the indescribable, impenetrable, unseen world the girls lived in.
The novel tells the story from the outside looking in, through the eyes of the neighborhood boys who obsessed over the Lisbon girls, dreamed about them, and sought some form of access to their haunting inner world. The girls themselves were ethereal creatures spotted only sporadically, surreal ghosts of the lively, vibrant girls they should have been. A movie could never recreate such an abstract viewpoint - the only possible way to do it is to take us into the Lisbon house from the very start. We see what takes places within those walls, watch the interactions of the girls with their parents and one another, and that obviously takes away from some of the mystery inherent in the novel. Even still, we don't get to know the girls as well as we do in the novel. Only two stand out - Constance and Lux, while the other three are simply there, impossible to call by name or recognize by individual nature. That's the main weakness of this otherwise fine adaptation. There's a rushed sort of feeling to the story, and we really needed more time to know and understand Bonnie, Mary, and Therese.
Kirsten Dunst was a perfect choice to play the sensual free spirit that is Lux, while Hanna R. Hall is wonderful as the enigmatic Cecilia, the real lynchpin for the entire story. The film, quickly launching into the traumatic events of the story, doesn't really give us enough time to really see who Cecilia is, and that robs it of some of its heart-touching power, I'm afraid. James Woods plays the subdued role of Mr. Lisbon brilliantly, but Kathleen Turner just never really seemed to capture Mrs. Lisbon successfully enough for me. Then there's Josh Hartnett - not my favorite actor - in full 70s regalia. His character is an important link to Lux, but I think he gets too much time in the movie, to the point that it takes away from the true vision of the other boys' obsession with the girls. The conclusion, on the other hand, feels much too rushed. It's a dark and shocking scene that almost seems to happen in slow motion in the novel, but in the film it all happens so fast that you don't really have sufficient time to digest it. None of these things are a problem for those familiar with Eugenides' novel, but viewers who haven't read the book just won't get the full effect of the tragedy, I'm afraid.