Whit Stillman creates characters that seem stuck out of time. They speak in measured, intelligent prose that sounds invariably written. They carry themselves as if they are walking amongst the high-society socialites of the F. Scott Fitzgerald ilk. They exist in a world that is overtly artificial yet somehow familiar. Stillman rises from a 13-year silence with Damsels In Distress – a very funny film that demonstrates Stillman’s defiant, set-in-his-ways approach to storytelling showing us that, love him or hate him, he will always do what he does.
Violet, our hero, is played magnificently by Greta Gerwig. She is assertive, elitist, and polite…she is also bossy, condescending, and arrogant. It is a testament to Gerwig’s performance that we love Violet. This is also a testament to Whit Stillman’s carefully controlled comic tone. One thing I forgot to mention is that Violet is insane. Perhaps all of the characters in Damsels are insane with the possible exception of Lily (Analeigh Tipton) – the sophomore transfer student who is taken under Violet’s wing. The funniest moments stem from the characters trying desperately to fill roles they have designed for themselves. Violet’s principle-minded sidekick, Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke), for example, has adopted a phony English accent after spending only weeks in the UK. All of them are acting.
Violet lives her life as if all problems are codes able to be cracked. Her and her colleagues run the campus’ suicide prevention center based on Violets conceit that depression can be cured with donuts and tap dancing. She also believes she can avoid ‘boy-problems’ by aiming for the lowest hanging fruits on the tree. The newcomer, Lily, serves as a straight woman of sorts. She sees the silliness of Violets antics, as we do, and understandably keeps her distance.
This movie is funny in an absurd, campy kind of way. Because of its consistently silly tone – aided by the wonderfully show-tune-esque score by Mark Suozzo – it’s not all that surprising that it turns into a full-blown musical. The soft-focus and heavenly backlighting gives the film a dreamy glow reminding us that this is indeed fantasy. It is not without its flaws – Violet’s decline and recovery seems a bit unfocused and superficial. The film’s few shortcomings, however, are largely forgivable given Stillman’s impecable sense of tone and comic timing.
7 out of 10
reposted from my blog (themastershot.wordpress.com)