Focuspullr has been very remiss of late in getting to see films, let alone finding the time to review them. However, as tomorrow, May 3rd marks the first anniversary of this blog, I thought it appropriate to get busy and post a review!
I first saw Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress during the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival back in February, and posted a review at that time. However, I’ve since seen the film a second time and enjoyed it even more. So, to celebrate the past 12 months, and as I look forward to the next 12, here’s my updated review for your reading pleasure.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to stop by and read my blog in the past year. It really means a lot. I look forward to your company again in the months ahead.
This is Whit Stillman’s first feature since Last Days of Disco in 1998, and while his work rate wouldn’t worry Woody Allen, it’s an absence of almost Malickian proportions for this most urbane of directors. What has kept him away for so long is uncertain, but with the release of Damsels in Distress, it’s as if he’s never really been away.
The story takes place at the leafy Seven Oaks College where a trio of high-minded female students, led by the very lovely Greta Gerwig (as group leader Violet) attempt to take on the rampant “male barbarism” which they feel has overtaken the college. The girls’ mission, amongst other things, is to tackle the high incidences of college suicides; encouraging the students to improve themselves, they advocate the eating of doughnuts and self-expression through tap dancing. As you may already have gathered, for a campus-set teen romp, Animal House this ain’t.
After the early, loose trilogy of films with which he made his name - Metropolitan, Barcelona and Last Days of Disco – Damsels in Distress feels slightly like Whitman in off-duty mode. This is certainly no bad thing as the film contains his usual trademark qualities – well dressed, well heeled, articulate, intelligent characters; smart, funny dialogue; cheesy music and droll humour. Like David Lynch, another creator of familiar-but-weird American settings, Stillman creates his own world, which you either enter into at face value, or want to run screaming from.
Though, to be fair, this is not a film which you can really dislike or even hate. There are some funny visual gags, and the girls themselves are earnest and likeably sweet, if a little dim. They all sport fragrant names, Violet, Heather, Lily and Rose – who seems to believe she’s from London, despite only spending a few short weeks there. Like a benevolent old uncle, Whitman indulges the girls and their heart-felt, though half-baked theories. One of their self-improving ideas, for example, is taking on less good-looking, less intelligent boyfriends, in order to improve them. While Whitman gently pokes fun at the girls, he is never mean or cruel to them. In fact, there is a sort of old-fashioned innocence to the whole affair which is oddly appealing.
Violet even aspires to inventing a new dance craze, the Sambola, which she genuinely believes will make the world a better place. And if all this faux-naivety isn’t quite enough for you, the film ends, as surely every film should, with the principle characters leading their partners in a chereograped dance sequence set to a cheesy, 1950s faux-rock and roll soundtrack. Marvellous.
Watch the trailer –