Calum Marsh of Slant Magazine writes:
The manner in which American comedy has changed since the release of Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco in 1998 is precisely illustrated by the difference between that film’s theatrical poster, ported over to Image Entertainment’s now-discontinued home-video release but not to Criterion’s later DVD and Blu-ray iterations, and the one adorning the cover of his latest film, Damsels in Distress. The The Last Days of Disco affiche is quintessential ’90s ad chic: Emphasizing (one might even say misrepresenting) the hypersexual glamour of the film’s nightlife milieu, the image has a vaguely lurid quality intended to swindle those most easily titillated out of the price of admission.
Noel Murray of the L.A. times writes this for the Damsels in Distress DVD and VOD:
Writer-director Whit Stillman’s first film since 1998’s “The Last Days of Disco” is a loopy campus comedy, starring Greta Gerwig as an idealistic upperclassman who leads a group of young women with strict rules about dating and cleanliness. Even those who’ve enjoyed the arch language and intricate
social tribalism of Stillman’s “Metropolitan” and “Barcelona” might be put off by the cartoony absurdism here. But for those who appreciate originality, this is one singularly funny movie, full of color, music, dancing — and some sharp insight into how college kids struggle to define themselves. Stillman and his cast provide a commentary track to the DVD and Blu-ray, which also include a trio of featurettes.
Jake Wilson at the Sydney Morning Herald writes:
IT HAS to be said this is not quite the comeback we might have expected from Whit Stillman, the leading urbane fogey of modern American cinema, who has been silent – if not by choice – since The Last Days of Disco in 1998.
Stillman’s earlier work seemed based on close observation of a privileged east-coast milieu, populated by the kind of buttoned-down young people once known as ”preppies”. By contrast, Damsels in Distress is a fairytale, set in an imaginary land where retro fashion and formal discourse are the norm.
This is a campus comedy where for once it’s the snobs rather than the slobs who inhabit the moral high ground. Stillman’s heroine is scholarship student Violet Wister (Greta Gerwig), the leader of a clique of girls firmly committed to manners and hygiene.
Xan Brooks of the Sydney Morning Herald writes:
Once, long ago, Whit Stillman found himself briefly billed as the next great American auteur; the creator of dry, literate bourgeois comedies that idled on the edge of the cinema scene like exotic wallflowers at a grungy party. His 1990 debut, Metropolitan, was a cut-glass tale of mixed-up preppies on winter break. Barcelona (1994) unfolded as a gilded bromance version of An Officer and a Gentleman, while the wayward protagonists of 1998’s The Last Days of Disco deconstructed Disney classics to a soundtrack of Sister Sledge and Diana Ross. Quietly, diligently, Stillman seemed to have found his voice and hit his stride. And then: nothing. To all intents and purposes, he disappeared for 13 years.
Shaun Huston of PopMatters writes this of the Criterion Disco DVD:
At this point it is, I think, uncontroversial to note the lack of diversity in American film and television, or to make note of how that lack has resulted in normalizing, or even naturalizing, certain categories of identity—white, male, middle class, heterosexual—and marking others as deviations.
One effect of this privileging is in the absence or marginalization of individuals and stories that do not conform to the normalized categories. To take a few examples, this accounts for the relative lack of leading roles for women or African-Americans, and how few Hollywood films or network television series are made from the perspective of queer individuals, or from those in the working class.