Writer-director Whit Stillman creates this perfect, hermetically-sealed world upper and upper middle-class college students with rarefied manners and a high-minded way of speaking straight out of Miss Manners. Greta Gerwig's prim, smell-sensitive Violet wants to enrich the inner emotional lives of her fellow classmates at an upscale Seven Oaks College through dance routines and self-improvement maxims.
With Damsels In Distress, Stillman is targeting and poking fun at a very particular type of invasive social busybody, but to what ends? Stillman's first film in 13 years shows us some of its characters' backgrounds, has them expound on their motivations and wishes, and yet by the end of the movie, we're no clearer to understanding them or really even the joke that the filmmaker is trying to tell.Our own Kurt Halfyard was likewise unable to find the humor in the movie. From his TIFF review:
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 of 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.The film's humor isn't lost on Kurt--just malformed:
I'd be lying if I said that I did not laugh out loud on a number of occasions during the film, but it was more of the 'shock' variety of just how vacuous Stillman's philosophical musings are on this generation of ladies and guys. Apparently he is content to dance his way to a blissfully ignorant apocalypse, maybe break (or re-establish) an outdated social norm or two. Is the man bitter, or is his grasp on the filmmaking of modern indie quirk so far off base as to make Zach Braff wince? And I say this because a film such as Metropolitan might have been a touchstone for the Wes Anderson's of the world.I'd add that the movie does have one bright spot: a very good performance by lead actress Greta Gerwig whose invasive, steel-willed debutante Violet Kurt and I both agree deserves a better film.
Presentation and Special Features:
Writer-director Whit Stillman is joined by actors Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton, and Megalyn Echikunwoke on the commentary track. Stillman serves as both moderator and guide for the track, drawing in the performers about some of their recollections about the production while detailing some of his own motivations and background for individual scenes. I may not have been won over by his film, but you could do worse than have an on-point, smart filmmaker like Stillman delivering the commentary.
Damsels in Distress: Behind the Scenes (10:10, HD) shows some of the scene rehearsals against the finished scenes and interviews with the cast. "An Evening With Damsels in Distress" (28:38, HD) sees the cast and Stillman on stage talking about the film in chat moderated by critic Pete Hammond. Five deleted scenes (07:08, HD) add some tiny bits of dialog snipped from the finished film. An outtakes reel (05:59, HD) sees the cast flubbing their lines. The theatrical trailer (02:23, HD) and a still image advertising the soundtrack round out the features here.
Damsels in Distress is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.