Bradford Film Festival Reviews: Damsels in Distress
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
There's no distress visible in Whit Stillman's latest release...
It's been a while since Whit Stillman's last release back in 1998 (Last Days Of Disco) but his latest film, Damsels In Distress, is well worth the wait.
Like Stillman's previous films, Damsels focuses on articulate characters obsessed with modern etiquette and social correctness but transports us to Sevenoaks University college campus. Here we meet Violet and her do-good chums, Heather (Carrie, MacLernore) and Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) who together run The Suicide Prevention Centre, giving doughnuts out and running tap dance therapy classes for heartbroken girls contemplating suicide. The centre is not their sole concern, as the gang also conduct “Youth Outreach” work by going to parties to help guys who haven't reached or realised their full potential yet.
Damsels opens with old style silent movie credits with full cast names rolling in keeping with the film's 50s' feel. Violet and friends dress in vintage clothes, the film's title is of course suggestive of a bygone era and its prim but absurd ideologies are from another time: Violet optimistically says, "This scent and this soap is what gives me hope", managing to convince a row of road workers to have a good sniff. She talks of “Nasal Shock Syndrome” being rife at Sevenoaks with certain frat houses being notorious for their body odour and warns: "Handsome men are to be avoided". The formality and fluidity of her dialogue gives the impression she is trapped in the past: "I'd like to thank you for this chastisement," says Violet after being criticised for being pretentious, conceited and arrogant.
Meeting college newbie, Lily (Analeigh Tipton - Crazy, Stupid, Love) transforms group dynamics and indirectly forces Violet down the very path she dreads and detests. Arriving at a frat party playing “golden oldies” (songs from the 90s) and full of stereotypical drunken jocks, Violet arrogantly announces, "There's a lifetime of social work here", rather ironically ignorant of her own imminent downfall.
Although much of Damsels makes for surreal viewing, Stillman grounds his film in well-observed social commentary, allowing his characters to say it like it is. Violet seeks to change the course of the future by starting a new dance craze (The Sambola) and honestly admits the secret to happiness is "friends who are about the same size". The melodrama of youth is played out in the library with talks of the dangers of “the stacks”. Students pushed into study by rich parents and sports scholarships are represented by Frank who's the butt of ongoing jokes playing on his stupidity: "If my eyes were so blue wouldn't everything look blue looking out?" OCD flashbacks and an impressively lame suicide attempt light-heartedly highlight contemporary student pressures.
Stillman breaks up Damsels into titled chapters like "The Algebra of Love" and occasionally makes his college setting seem otherworldly with amazing red skies. Through his script, the girls speak their own self-assured language (“Sad sack” means “loser” for example...) and demonstrate their intelligence, playfully picking apart language and word meanings – a bizarrely elaborate argument about the spelling of Xavier/Zavier comes to mind.
Just as Violet is described as "a little offbeat" so to is Stillman's film. Encouraging viewers to be true to who they are and not judge others, Damsels is reminiscent of Heathers downfall, but its leads are less destructive and more pro-life. Greta Gerwig (Yeast, No Strings Attached, Greenberg) undoubtedly holds Stillman's quirky feature together, providing plenty of laugh-out loud moments as Violet exists in a state of blissful ignorance, frustratingly self-righteous but sympathetically flawed and flailing.
Director/writer: Whit Stillman
Release Date: April 27 2012
Label: Sony Pictures
Running Time: 99 mins
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Carrie, MacLernore, Zach Woods
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE HELP SUPPORT OUR SITE, AT NO COST WITH ONE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK 'LIKE' BUTTON BELOW:
If you're interested in writing for Shadowlocked (disc and screening reviews, etc, or just getting some extra coverage for your extraordinary writing talent, get in touch with us.