Oh, those simple days when any Whit Stillman-related article was well worth posting. With the imminent release of Damsels in Distress it’s now hard to work out which of the many articles and blog posts contain anything new or interesting, and which are merely parroting the others. So, if you spot something worthwhile which I miss, do post it in the comments for everyone else to see.
With that, here’s a round-up of some recent reviews, with some interviews and other reports in subsequent posts…
Paul Felton at the Brooklyn Rail is already a keen Stillman fan, and compares the new movie favourably with his previous work:
Violet [Greta Gerwig’s character] is the reductio ad absurdum of Stillman’s impish tendency to amplify his characters’ conservative sensibilities.
The A.V. Club’s review by Noel Murray, gives the film an A- grade:
Dig beneath the zippy chatter, vivid colors, absurdist turns, and occasional dance numbers, and at heart, Damsels In Distress is a Whit Stillman movie about the way young people try to define themselves, and how—“sane” or not—they hide their petty hypocrisies behind convoluted modifications to their public identities.
Drew Grant at the New York Observer is also positive:
Damsels in Distress is a sweet film putting on airs. It offers up an original view of all those “cool girls” in college with their great vocabularies and noses turned up, as well as the frat jocks who so often play the cruel foils to their more bookish counterparts. In Damsels, it is the nerds – like the head of the student paper Rick DeWolfe … – who are presented as the true cynics, while Violet, Frank and Charlie are the actual weirdos.
Eric Hynes at The Village Voice talks of how Stillman’s conservative viewpoint plays in 2012.
Four features in, Whit Stillman’s cinematic sensibility is both plain as day and hard to pin down. In a Stillman film, a lost gentility is regularly romanticized but rarely ever properly defined, let alone reacquired. Rules are fetishized for the implication, if not the realization, of order. And in this, his most plainly satirical film that is also arguably his least cynical, a bunch of aspiring conformists reliably do the most abnormal of things—sniff bars of soap, conjugate the plural of doofus, choreograph the sambola. Dancing breaks out in all of Stillman’s films and usually just because. All the cardigans and brass-buttoned blazers in the world can’t cloak that kind of eccentricity.
The Epoch Times’ Joe Bendel gives the film only three stars out of five and is possibly alone in finding Gerwig’s otherwise highly-praised performance sub-par:
Frankly, Greta Gerwig seems awkwardly miscast here. She appears to struggle a bit with the rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, but at least she is not a bad hoofer.
A welcome return for the erudite Stillman, Damsels in Distress suffers somewhat from a weak lead, but it still has enough to recommend it for the filmmaker’s fans and anyone who enjoys a verbally nimble film.
Stephanie Zacharek at Movieline prefers Analeigh Tipton’s performance, giving the film 6/10:
By the time Damsels in Distress winds its way toward its closing musical number … its romantic charms, meager to begin with, have worn thin, like a tweed jacket gone threadbare at the elbows. The thing has the feel of a vanity project, lacking urgency – like the work of a gentleman filmmaker who doesn’t have to work.
However, Miriam Bale at Slant Magazine is, like most, enthusiastic about Gerwig:
As played by Gerwig, Violet is one of the great female characters in cinema: an idiosyncratic visionary, gently nuts, and kinder than you. Gerwig has long been a smart girl playing winsomely vague, but here she gets to be wildly intense and intelligent, while showing off precisely calibrated comic timing.
And Bale is also enthusiastic about the film as a whole:
Stillman’s latest is not only his best, it’s a boost for what American independent cinema could be.
Courtney Howard at Very Aware is also very pleased, giving the film 4.5 out of 5:
Rare is the film that can transform your day from bad to good all within a brisk 99 minutes. Even rarer is a Whit Stillman film that can do this with a lack of upper class snobbery and condescending tone. I have to say, I was blindsided by how much I enjoyed his newest film, Damsels in Distress. It’s sparkling, witty (whitty?), and whimsically hilarious. And I’d wager this is Stillman’s most accessible work yet.
And that’s all the reviews for the moment.
UPDATE Half an hour later and Google showers me with more reviews. So:
The film only gets C+ at Entertainment Weekly:
If anyone can get away with the faux grandiosity of the dialogue, it ought to be Greenberg’s Greta Gerwig. Certainly she gives it the old college try, playing the leader of a group of coeds who “help” depressed students by offering counsel, encouraging good hygiene, and promoting the benefits of social dancing. Gerwig can’t make her character come alive, though, and neither can Adam Brody as one of their neediest male cases
Mary Pols at Time is much more positive though, agreeing with the more common view that the performances are good:
They are delightful: Echikunkwoke has perfect timing; MacLemore brings a dreamy sweetness to her more minor role; and Tipton, who played the adorably awkward babysitter in Crazy Stupid Love, neatly manages to convey skepticism and bravado with a touching vulnerability. She’s the voice of the audience, noting the hypocrisies and eccentricities of her “somewhat perfume-obsessed” friends as needed.
But Gerwig is the heart of the movie. She gives a beautifully contained performance as Violet.
There’s a B+ for the film at Film School Rejects:
Damsels in Distress is an irrepressibly twee cinematic experience, but Stillman and his cast are so earnest and honest with their work that it’s fully capable of delighting willing audiences. And, in between the introduction of “international dance crazes” and Violet’s obsession with a bar of soap she finds in a hotel bathroom, Damsels in Distress actually has plenty to say about such big stuff as love, dreams, and friendship – and the insanity that comes with wanting any of them.
And, really, truly, that’s it for now!