Tag Archives: reviews

‘Damsels in Distress’ reviews from Toronto

Damsels in Distress has screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, resulting in a bunch more reviews. Toronto Life has a brief report and photo gallery from the press conference:

When asked why he chose to make a picture about a troupe of misguided misfits at a private liberal arts college, a wry Stillman replied, “because someone would finance it.” MacLemore and Gerwig explained the particular rules of working on a Stillman film (“Walk Slower. Talk Faster. No Touching”), and all the actors commented on the challenges of learning to speak Stillmanese, which, judging by their speech rhythms onstage, persists for some time afterward.

The (Canadian) National Post has a written discussion between three people about the film, all of whom are enthusiastic. Somehow, a discussion like this brings out a few more interesting points about Stillman’s world than most straight reviews:

Sarah Lazarovic: The lack of real problems makes it easy for his characters to just ramble and banter and wax pedantic and make up new social classes and dance crazes (and perhaps social class dance crazes). Which is lovely. There are lots of well-written films in the world; there are far too few well-spoken ones.

Shinan Govani: I also loved how the director just creates a world – that, well, looks like ours, sorta, but is a mirror-house variation of ours. Did you guys notice, for instance, how these contemporary college coeds were never seen talking on cellphones – let alone social networking?

At CinemaBlend.com, Katey Rich apparently has a video review, although I didn’t make it through the initial 30 second advert. Her text review of the film is mixed, as she found herself “respecting its oddities more than engaging with it”.

Finally, for now, at Twitch, Kurt Halfyard isn’t quite sure what to make of Damsels but has some interesting thoughts:

Damsels In Distress finds Stillman making a bitter mockery of his previous work cloaked in effervescent frivolity. It is as if Stillman came out of retirement as an act self-immolation. The familiar syntax is present, the characters are in a similar social stratum, here a fictional university that caters to parents who buy their dunce-lings into an education bound not to stick, but the whole affair comes across as a vapid version of Clueless (i.e. life is a ‘shopping experience’ distillation of Emma). Either that, or the writer/director has no finger on the pulse of this generation and no interest in understanding them either.

‘Damsels’ screened in Venice and Toronto, and the verdict is…

On Saturday night Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress was the closing movie at the Venice Film Festival, before a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, and as a result we finally have some lengthy reviews. And the word is good.

Damsels in Distress picture

Writing for InContention.com, Guy Lodge could barely stop laughing at the 99 minute film:

The director’s many patient fans will find his skewed wit and dryly affectionate mockery of the East Coast upper classes pleasingly intact, even if the film surrounding these virtues is perhaps a shade broader and more heightened than his three previous features. Newcomers to his work might take a few scenes to adjust to his exactingly verbal, language-besotted humor, which can turn on a single line from sweetly daffy to cuttingly perceptive – if “black whimsy” is a genre, he’s still one of its foremost practitioners – but should be lured in by the frisky pace of the piece, not to mention its luxuriance of finely whittled one-liners.

(I’m picking out the general impressions here, rather than descriptions of the plot, or some of the funny quotes. Click through if you want to read more of that. But I figured some of you, like me, might be keen to read reviewers’ opinions without “spoiling” your knowledge of the film too much.)

In another positive review, Neil Young at the Hollywood Reporter contributes to a common theme, praise for the cast, in particular Greta Gerwig:

The damsels all get their chance to shine, with [Analeigh] Tipton genially appealing as the audience surrogate voice of (relative) common sense. But this is in many ways Gerwig’s show: She’s pitch-perfect here, infuriating and irresistible… And while Gerwig continues her steady ascent, relative newcomer [Ryan] Metcalf also emerges as a real find. His Frank is a sweetly dunderheaded oaf, one who’s perhaps a much better match for the refined Violet than she’d ever dare or deign to admit.

Leslie Felperin, writing at Variety, is also keen, calling the film “an utter delight”:

Pic is chockfull of daft digressions and sweetly silly subplots, but the ensemble goes at it all with such deadpan rigor, it plays like vintage screwball comedy minus the pratfalls. … Positively boiling with sharp, almost casually dispensed zingers, repeated phrases…, and dialogue that might not be so funny when repeated in isolation but is hilarious in context, Stillman’s screenplay is a thing of beauty.

Some reviewers are hopeful that the young, relatively well-known, cast will attract new and younger fans to Stillman’s films, although Felperin does caution that:

Those inclined to dislike Stillman’s work won’t be persuaded otherwise by Damsels, but fans will be more than satisfied.

It sounds like Lee Marshall, writing at Screen Daily, might be one of those who won’t be persuaded otherwise about what he nevertheless calls an “occasionally hilarious” film:

What holds Damsels In Distress back from being more than a droll curio is the way that its mannerisms and intellectual jokes freeze out any real empathy with its characters. Accompanied by a muzak-style easy listening soundtrack that is presumably meant to be ironic, and wrapped by a couple of musical numbers that are pleasant enough, this fitfully funny Phi Beta Kappa divertissement is not so much Jane Austen meets Judd Apatow as a poor man’s Oscar Wilde meets a preppy, co-ed St Trinian’s.

Robert Bell, on Exclaim.ca shares some criticisms with Marshall, complaining of poor direction and editing:

There’s virtually no progress and really no point to anything that happens beyond the aforementioned cultural didactics. But the dialogue is consistently hilarious, making the awkward pacing and dreadful direction somewhat palatable.

However, James Rocchi reviewing for IndieWire calls Stillman’s scriptwriting and direction “the real star”. He seems to love the film although thinks it’s not without flaws:

It’s a whipsmart and arch screenplay and for viewers willing to play along, it’s a pleasure unraveling the wordplay the actors clearly enjoy delivering (and do so with ease, which we can only imagine was due to extensive rehearsals). But not everything in the film is a success.

Stillman is so invested in portraying life at Seven Oaks through the distinct lenses of Violet and her girls, that the male characters are mostly presented as doufi (and yes, that is Stillman’s preferred). The girls see most men on campus as primitive (and horribly smelly) and thus, outside of Charlie and Francis, the guys are morons.

So there we go. It looks like anyone keen enough on Whit Stillman to read this blog is likely to be relieved, and thoroughly enjoy Damsels in Distress. Whether that’s also true for those who aren’t keen or, more likely, have never seen a Stillman movie, remains to be seen. But given one-liners like this from David Stratton in the Australian, we can be more than hopeful:

Quite simply the funniest and smartest comedy seen in many months.

First review of ‘Damsels in Distress’

It’s hard to know when to start calling something a “review”; the previous verdict was only a couple of sentences but this one is rather longer and perhaps counts as a review proper.

At the Toronto Globe and Mail, Rick Groen gives this verdict under the headline “Damsels in Distress: A mild disappointment from Walt Stillman” (yes, “Walt”):

For fans of Whit Stillman, it’s been a long 13-year wait since his last film in the Metropolitan/Barcelona/Last Days of Disco trilogy. Alas, for this fan of Whit Stillman, great expectations are now met with mild disappointment. Witty, literate and precisely observed, each of those earlier films was a comedy of manners. This is a mannered comedy, more stylized and theatrical, almost surreal at times, and less accommodating to his trademark brand of razor-sharp dialogue. Led by Greta Gerwig, the damsels are a quartet of undergrads in a privileged East Coast university; the distress is the fashionable depression that surrounds and occasionally engulfs them. Not to worry, though – it’s all played as a clever lark, complete with song and dance and a different brand of wit, the quixotic kind that sparkles one moment but strains badly the next. The setting is a present that feels like the past – but, for admirers of that now distant trilogy, not quite enough like the past.

(In the long run I won’t feature every review of the movie, but will only include the longer and/or more thoughtful pieces. But right now, these paragraphs are the only word we have.)