If you still haven’t had enough of reading reviews of Damsels in Distress, here are a bunch more from over Easter. If you only read one, then Richard Brody’s in The New Yorker is maybe the most interesting. Here’s the current crop of longer and/or big-name reviews…
Farran Smith Nehme at the New York Post seems to like the movie (3.5 stars) with one caveat:
The episodic structure means some scenes feel disconnected, and Violet’s own bout of depression (“I prefer the term ‘tailspin,’” she tells people) goes on a little longer than desirable.
Greg Evans at Businessweek gives the film three stars (I assume out of five) and seems to like it, calling Greta Gerwig’s Violet “a breakthrough performance”.
J. Hoberman at ArtInfo is also keen on the film, and Gerwig, saying “her often ungainly, impossibly mannered Violet is the most authentic element in Damsel.” Hoberman also thinks the final musical number is a “shameless homage to the dreadful Woody Allen musical Everyone Says I Love You” which seems unlikely… surely, if it’s a homage, it’s a homage to other, older, musicals (although I haven’t yet seen it myself).
I think Sam Adams in the LA Times likes Damsels, although it’s a little hard to tell and even his sign-off is ambiguous:
Gerwig and Echikunwoke deploy weapons-grade poker faces, but Stillman too often substitutes pith for insight, until even that is drowned out by the sound of him chortling into his sleeve.
Across the continent, A.O. Scott in the New York Times also isn’t overly enthusiastic:
Mr. Stillman’s control of the tone also seems wobbly. The far-fetched absurdism of some of the humor — the boy who doesn’t know his colors, for instance — rubs awkwardly against some of the sharper satirical insights. The musical score, by Mark Suozzo and Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), evokes a bad television movie from the 1980s, and its deployment is as haphazard as the pacing and juxtaposition of the scenes. The actors often lack direction, both in the sense that they do not seem to have been instructed in how to play their roles and also in the more literal sense that they do not always appear to know which way to walk, or how fast.
At Hitfix Geoff Berkshire thinks that even if the movie isn’t perfect on first viewing, it’s built to last:
I have a hunch Damsels is the sort of film that seems enjoyable but slight on a first viewing, then ages surprisingly well over time. You know the kind: Quotes and characters linger in your memory long after you’ve seen it. You can’t pass up an opportunity to drop in on it during a cable rerun. And, in this case, Stillman has made an entertainment with enough depth to hold up over repeated viewings.
In the Atlantic Eleanor Barkhorn seems to feel something is lacking:
We’re meant to recoil from Lily’s celebration of averageness and embrace Violet’s “uniqueness, eccentricity, independence.” But the message doesn’t resonate. The movie is so set in its own fantasyland that the rules of this world don’t seem to apply.
There’s nothing wrong with a happy movie, of course. Stillman is right to reject the indie assumption that to be meaningful, a film has to be depressing. But it would have been nice to believe that some of the characters’ tap-dancing joy could be realized beyond Seven Oaks.
(I don’t know about you, but I’m realising how much of the average movie review is simply taken up with recounting the setting and the plot.)
Jeannette Catsoulis at NPR is much more positive, recommending the film:
Though the screenplay’s whimsy may be too rich for some, Stillman’s writing has a singular intelligence that has become an increasingly rare pleasure in the movie theater.
Richard Brody has a fairly long and interesting review in the New Yorker:
The controlled manners of [Stillman's] superb quartet of actresses are now built on an expressly distant and prescriptive throwback to bygone Hollywood ways—emptied of history and of personality and infused with moralism. In the feminine bouquet that he gathers, the predominant bloom is Allan Bloom. Its sorrows are authentic; its anachronistic prescriptions suggest the proud doctrinal self-assurance of the latecoming prophet. Damsels in Distress is a great movie even though, at times, it’s not even a good one.
Dana Stevens at Slate loves the final dance number but doesn’t find the rest of the film quite convincing:
Stillman has always excelled at writing a certain style of comic dialogue in which characters converse earnestly with one another in a kind of hermetic preppy code, completely unaware of how ridiculous and insular they sound to us (though our disposition toward them is affectionate, not mocking). In fact, Stillman’s first and best movie, the effervescent drawing-room satire Metropolitan, took that code—and the characters’ anxiety about how it would translate to their imminent post-college lives—as one of its main subjects. In Damsels in Distress, the Stillman style has come unmoored from its reason for existence. Too ethereal to be a satire and too arch to be a psychologically recognizable character portrait, Damsels in Distress flits prettily by without ever finding anything to be about. We don’t know how to enter into any of the girls’ stories, though Violet’s comes frustratingly close to inviting us in.
And that’s all the reviews for now!