Damsels In Distress—movie review

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
April 6, 2012 1:19 AM
5 Comments
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Photo by Sabrina Lantos, (Sony Pictures Classics)
It’s difficult to know what to make of Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress. When I screened it for my class at USC my students’ reaction was all over the map. One young woman said it was possibly the worst movie she’d ever seen, while a young man raised his hand to say that he loved it; many others echoed their sentiments. I fall somewhere in between those two extremes.

Indie favorite Greta Gerwig plays an Ivy League college student whose clique adopts a newcomer to campus (Analeigh Tipton). These self-possessed young ladies feel it is incumbent upon them to raise the spirits, and standards, of the campus—whether the recipients of their largesse are grateful or not.

One could call their mode of language and overall manner affected or obnoxious, depending on your point of view. I was not buying into the film until people around me started laughing, and I found myself surrendering to it…somewhat. I think it’s the sheer absurdity of the movie that disarmed some of my students, although it is still best described as an oddity. (There is even an old-fashioned musical number near the end of the picture.)

Photo by Kerry Brown, (Sony Pictures Classics)
Writer-director Stillman is a former preppie who has explored upper-class values in his previous films, but I don’t remember finding Metropolitan so arch and off-putting as Damsels in Distress.

I suspect that audiences and critics will echo my class’ widely varied response to the film, but this much is sure: it may earn a niche as the year’s most original and unusual comedy.

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5 Comments

  • Tori_Fox-Hunter | April 9, 2012 5:46 PMReply

    Good to hear some new Stillman wit and dialogue, unfortunately the actors and accompanying film are utterly unequal to it. Old wine in new bottles simply doesn't work for Whit in "Damsels". Too many scenes come from nowhere and lead nowhere, a flaw not to be found in his earlier films. Missing is the real historical milieu of late-70s and early-80s American WASPdom, a backdrop which did much to integrate and render effective the characters and storylines of "Metropolitan" and "Last Days". Very little in "Damsels" comes across as real or even plausible -- nothing strikes the viewer as historical. Inconsistency, impropriety and technical incompetence are the dominant notes, so much so that once the dance numbers started at the end of the film I began to wonder about Stillman's sanity. (Perhaps it's no accident that Greta Gerwig's character is quite happy to admit that she's crazy.) Practitioners may be even less forgiving. My best friend, an editor, referred to the final product as "Damsels in Diarrhea". Sorry Whit.

  • Mo | April 7, 2012 5:10 PMReply

    It may have looked good on paper (I have little doubt it was a clever and funny script), but on the screen it just didn't work. A "B" for concept, a "D" for execution.

  • Daniel | April 6, 2012 11:37 PMReply

    The movie trailer of 'Damsels in Distress' at my local cinematheque was funny and original. I'm going to see it because Analeigh Tipton is an up-and-coming actress.

  • Norm | April 6, 2012 6:10 PMReply

    pass...

  • Karen | April 6, 2012 9:09 AMReply

    It's interesting about your class' reactions. I saw it at a SAG screening. There was plenty of laughter during the film, including mine. But when the film ended and the credits started, there were also a number of hisses, unusual in this usually well-behaved crowd.

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