Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

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Shrew
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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#51 Post by Shrew » Sun May 20, 2012 12:54 am

I enjoyed this a lot, but I understand why some people would feel underwhelmed. Whitman's just as hilarious as before, but the film feels really unfocused, which makes it seem somewhat insubstantial despite making you laugh through the whole thing. Of course, Whitman was never really about big narratives, but the various comic episodes of Manhattan and Barcelona all felt like they were building toward something as they slowly unwound the characters' tightly knotted pretensions and defense mechanisms. That's still happening here, but there's also many more characters competing for attention, and some of the threads seem to have been lost in the editing (namely the evolution of the Gerwig/Brody relationship, and the dancing itself). The same could be said of Last Days of Disco, but there everything seemed to circle back to Sevigny's character, whereas in Damsels, both Violet and Lily could be considered the central character.

I'm not sure if this lack of focus is ultimately good or bad. Although I think it does let Stillman get in more jokes, it also keeps us from getting as much insight into these characters. It's still remarkable how much he develops all these players in a relatively short amount of time, but it feels like a case of breadth over depth, and at times like there had just been a lot of ideas collected during that hiatus that needed some sort of release.

But Stillman also has a great knack for writing absurd exchanges that avoid becoming quirkfests by grounding them in clear motivations. Take the scene where Heather doesn't understand that X and Z could sound the same in a foreign language, and while Lily is befuddled and looking for a polite way to call Heather out on her idiocy, Violet keeps creating more and more absurd explanations in order to avoid confrontation, ending up with some nonsense about "Xorro". It's great and quirky without devolving into one-quirk caricatures.

Edit: Oh, to the person or whoever else saw Stillman at a screening. What part was Eigeman supposed to play? I'm assuming the paper editor, since it seems Zach Woods was trying to channel his snark. (Though not badly, and I almost didn't recognize him without the sniveling twerp act.)

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Jeff
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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#52 Post by Jeff » Tue Jul 17, 2012 12:46 am

The Sony Blu-ray, due September 25, looks to include a nice set of supplements:
- Commentary with Writer/Director Whit Stillman and Cast
- Deleted Scenes
- Outtakes
- Damsels in Distress: Behind the Scenes
- An Evening with Damsels in Distress: Q&A with Whit Stillman and Cast

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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#53 Post by ptsnob » Fri Jul 20, 2012 1:08 pm

Shrew wrote:I'm not sure if this lack of focus is ultimately good or bad. Although I think it does let Stillman get in more jokes, it also keeps us from getting as much insight into these characters. It's still remarkable how much he develops all these players in a relatively short amount of time, but it feels like a case of breadth over depth, and at times like there had just been a lot of ideas collected during that hiatus that needed some sort of release.
I understand what you mean by the lack of focus. There's a sense during the second half of the movie that the story could go almost anywhere. I feel like Stillman had so many great ideas for gags and clever lines that he tried to throw as much as he could onto the screen. It's a testament to his talents as a writer that the messy plotting is still so entertaining. The actors sell even the silliest material and make Damsels such a joy to watch. You make an excellent point about Stillman having so many ideas because of the hiatus. It may not provide an in-depth story, but the sense of freedom that exists isn't something that you see in too many films these days, even in the indie spectrum. I loved the goofiness of the entire production and expect he'll be more focused the next time around.

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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#54 Post by Applesauce » Sat Jul 21, 2012 4:52 pm

Shrew wrote: Edit: Oh, to the person or whoever else saw Stillman at a screening. What part was Eigeman supposed to play? I'm assuming the paper editor, since it seems Zach Woods was trying to channel his snark.
I believe that's correct.

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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#55 Post by Jean-Luc Garbo » Wed Jul 25, 2012 1:26 am

An "ethical imperative" to self-improvement - an excellent appreciation from Senses of Cinema.

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Murdoch
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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#56 Post by Murdoch » Thu Sep 27, 2012 12:09 pm

This was such a superb film, proving that all you really need for a good comedy is four adorable coeds and some Criterion posters. I love how the film begins with so little exposition and just gives us this awkward meeting of the leads, with the relationship between Lily and Violet never devolving into a simplistic "we only met a few days ago but now we're BFFs!" but instead with Lily acting as a counter to Violet's idealism. The film is like a strange amalgamation of a Stillman movie with Animal House spliced in, it's a rather odd mixture when you watch the "doufi" frat boys talking with the leads, and it felt clumsy at times. Still, the "hey" back-and-forth between Thor and Heather was hilarious.

Speaking of which, the real shining star for me was Carrie MacLemore, whose empty-headedness provided the funniest moments of the film (especially the Xavier-Zavier debate between her and Lily). Hopefully she'll pop up in other things, she has a really lovely voice.

This may be my favorite Stillman movie, granted the only other film of his I've enjoyed was Barcelona (which I enjoyed a great deal). The mannerisms Stillman gives to his characters feel perfectly suited for higher education, and the setting is one of those obvious choices for his style that it makes me wonder why it took him so long to come out with a movie set in college.

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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#57 Post by swo17 » Thu Sep 27, 2012 1:51 pm

Murdoch wrote:This was such a superb film
It really was. And I was delightfully surprised to find this, as I've never been entirely satisfied with a Stillman film before (though I have yet to see Barcelona). Some scattered thoughts:

On top of being just a very funny and charming comedy, there was a refreshing innocence to it all (love that soundtrack!), even given that it deals heavily with subjects like suicide and anal sex. See for instance Violet's completely sincere explanation of how she acquired a bar of soap at a motel, as though the entire experience had been totally alien to her.

This should maybe be in spoiler tags:
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domino harvey wrote:even the audacious sideplot about Thor's inability to process colors is treated to be as valid as the "superior" characters' crises
if only because the revelation of Thor's problem is one of the film's best comic moments, initially making you think that he's going to start an argument based on the ambiguities of eye color. (I honestly can't tell what color my own eyes are--somewhere between blue, yellow, and green?--so I can relate to this.)
Also:
swo17, last year in this thread wrote:Literally every time my wife asks me lately "Where do I know that actor/actress?" the answer turns out to be Gossip Girl. I think it might actually be the only show she watches.
Actual happening while watching this movie with my wife: Shortly after the Xavier character first came on screen, she asked where it was she recognized him from. A couple scenes later: "Oh yeah, he’s in Gossip Girl." Does this make me a psychic?

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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#58 Post by Murdoch » Thu Sep 27, 2012 2:48 pm

Also, the actress who plays Heather had a guest spot on Gossip Girl.

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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#59 Post by swo17 » Thu Sep 27, 2012 2:54 pm

I believe she was the one that prompted my original comment. But really, we should be saving all this discussion for the Gossip Girl thread.[/bizarrocriterionforum]

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Murdoch
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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#60 Post by Murdoch » Thu Sep 27, 2012 3:05 pm

Ah, so she was, maybe this is Stillman's way of coming out as a GG fanboy.

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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#61 Post by swo17 » Thu Sep 27, 2012 3:30 pm

Also, Analeigh Tipton was originally on America's Next Top Model. CW 4eva!

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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#62 Post by Jean-Luc Garbo » Thu Sep 27, 2012 8:41 pm

Swo, you've got to see Barcelona if only for the dance in Ted's apartment. Or Eigeman's attempts to get Ted laid. The whole movie is comedic gold. And pathos, later on. You'll see.

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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#63 Post by swo17 » Thu Sep 27, 2012 10:46 pm

Hold the phone--per IMDb, I have actually already seen Barcelona! (And rated it an 8.) Though I have no memory of doing either of these things. :-k

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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#64 Post by Professor Wagstaff » Fri Sep 28, 2012 3:00 pm

Murdoch wrote:Ah, so she was, maybe this is Stillman's way of coming out as a GG fanboy.
Stillman said in an interview that he met with someone about directing an episode and was rejected.

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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#65 Post by Murdoch » Fri Sep 28, 2012 4:27 pm

That quells any interest I had in that show.

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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#66 Post by HistoryProf » Sat Oct 06, 2012 12:41 am

domino harvey wrote:I'm surprised at the sorta wishy-washy response from fans to the film. A little distance will reveal whether it holds up to its antecedents as strongly as it seems (on first pass I'd say it's Stillman's best film yet), but at the very least this is by a wide margin Stillman's funniest film. Perhaps the detractors respond to different aspects in Stillman's work than I do, but I thought this captured with good humor and humanism collegiate arrogance while never quite wagging the finger at easy targets-- even the audacious sideplot about Thor's inability to process colors is treated to be as valid as the "superior" characters' crises (and anyone who thinks the joke is in how ridiculous the frat boys are is missing Stillman's point) and there's a shared insanity to the intellectual justifications these characters feed each other to sort through all stimuli.

For as much as a bad audience can detract from a film, I was very thankful for the appreciative crowd I saw this with, which was composed of a motley bunch differing in age, dress, and race-- it did open my eyes a bit to my own bias about the perceived "audience" for Stillman's work, and shows that with the right marketing maybe this would have wider appeal than it's been marketed towards. Also, in light of the generated outrage Girls has received for a lack of diversity, it's interesting to note that Stillman's is extremely multicultural in its casting, and despite the WASPy gals at the center it is actually the most diversely populous film in recent memory.

One side note: Did the MPAA not get all the anal sex jokes, because I must have a deep misunderstanding of their policies if a film with a sideplot like that can get a PG-13...
I am a self-declared Stillman hater (I hate that term, but I despised Metropolitan, less so Last Days of Disco, but not by much), but I agree that this is easily his most humorous film to date. Indeed, I actually didn't hate it! I post this not to be flip or sarcastic, but to genuinely lobby that others who haven't found Stillman to be their cup of tea to give this one a try. I found it refreshingly funny and the usual Stillman quirks that have always bugged me weren't so pronounced this time around. It's not top ten material or anything, but I found the performances of the girls especially so charming that I couldn't help but smile and chuckle from beginning to end ("The Catholics are always bad, aren't they?" got a straight up guffaw). I'm sure it was his lifelong dream, but i'll be damned if the man hasn't finally made a film that didn't make me cringe. Perhaps it's because I've always been a playboy or operator type. That and Greta Gerwig is an American treasure.

As for the in-your-endo, I can attest that my 8th grade daughter, who I tricked into watching this with me by telling her it was about a clique of girls in college and funny, didn't seem to catch on at all. She also laughed more than I thought she would and enjoyed it, though declared more than once that "the music is totally annoying" - for what that is worth \:D/

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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#67 Post by HistoryProf » Sat Oct 06, 2012 12:56 am

swo17 wrote:Also, Analeigh Tipton was originally on America's Next Top Model. CW 4eva!
Ms. Tipton's entrance took me to IMDB after a bit as both my daughter and I were frustrated by not knowing where we knew her from...but when she said she recognized her too I knew it would be something I would blush at having watched. At least I can blame it on her and the wife.

She's a stunning girl. It's hard to say much about anyone's "acting" in a film like this, but she shows plenty of promise. Oddly, the most awkward actor in the film was Aubrey Plaza....her two scenes felt like high school drama, though perhaps that was intended, I never know with ole Whit.

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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#68 Post by AnamorphicWidescreen » Mon Dec 29, 2014 10:46 pm

I just saw Damsels in Distress for the first time, to finish up my Whit Stillman fest. I thought this was mildly amusing, but didn't hold a candle to WS's '90's films. It reminded me a lot of 1995's Clueless for some reason, though with the focus being on college students rather than H.S. I liked GG a lot in Frances Ha & Greenberg, and IMHO she was the best thing about this film as well.

Some of my favorite moments:

-The scene when the GG character
SpoilerShow
was in that diner having breakfast (after leaving the school temporarily in a state of depression), and she was basically advised by everyone in the diner not to off herself, since it would cause a mess for those who have to clean up after her.... :D
-The scene(s) when GG & her gal-pals made a big deal of the stench of the guys walking past her, to the point where they had to put hankerchiefs over their noses & one of them almost passed out - LOL. And, the later scenes of GG sending soap to the guys that stunk the most ;) This brought back memories of college (20 years ago), specifically of going to a house party near campus & going to the bathroom - and not finding any soap whatsoever :-&

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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#69 Post by therewillbeblus » Sat Jul 25, 2020 2:42 am

This was my least favorite Stillman film the first time I saw it, but a revisit showed just how intricately he's remodeling his approach into something deeper here (perhaps funnier too, though Chris Eigeman's absence is felt). The damsels' intellectualization as applied to emotions allow for rigid thinking and embracing perspective to keep them on the winning side of superiority. Contrarianism's problems are humorous but the stance's compassion continuously exposes itself- like the way that the damsels see through the paper-thin facade the frat institutions appear to be, to witness a need and their humanism. The depiction of fellowship is as grey and challenging as their attitudes, and Stillman's core belief that hypocrisy is a key ingredient in humanity is never cause for dismissal of positive action. The suicide prevention stuff is so good (the first time I saw this I only had experience assessing suicide on the floor as a Short Term 12 staff, so after a handful of clinical years it's perfect) but the acknowledgment of being "nosy" and turning it into a Look at Me I'm Self-Aware moment seals the deal for me as the film's truest line.

For a movie about people who refuse to label others by their egocentric expectations, I love how the film takes the same outlook towards its characters; not only the central crew, or the frat boys, but Analeigh Tipton's love interests- with Adam Brody transcending our judgment of his 'type' from a first glance, and the French early love-interest transforming into an unpredictable partial narcissist. Everyone is defensible, needs and deserves to be defended, and everyone is attackable and also needs that confrontation to engage and compromise their own egotistical perspectives. Stillman, a master of social observation, has never expressed his comprehension so well, and the harmony between the people is beautiful- especially as Tipton and Gerwig switch roles of advice so seamlessly without the dynamic becoming threatening or anything less than welcomed transference of support (until that happens as well, but through understandable means outside of these clique-convos).

Also, outside of the condescending self-inflation comes an empowering look at our potential for goodness. Gerwig's reaction to getting the ball back is so kind but makes one realize how projecting your anger onto another- even someone who has hurt you- is a selfish action, and saying Yes when you can is a great gift. At the same time, the growth we see from her and the others is large, as they move from solely externalizing their focus onto 'serving others to serve themselves' to giving themselves equal status to validate micro-relationship problems, interrupting conversations about bettering another without shaming themselves or hiding from the importance of this self-regard. The dignity and worth each character gives to the self, following their contributions to others, is a nice backwards-directed narrative. As opposed to a normal film which may demonstrate selfish people becoming more empathic, here selfishly minded but empathy-focused people make progress towards moderation on each polar side of the spectrum, arriving at a humble extension of empathy to the self after expanding outwardly in that safe space of emotional ignorance. For all its silly sides, Stillman reinforces the power of intellectualization to liberate our minds and our hearts in the end.

The ending that declares a need for "normal" rather than egotistical people is funny because it's yet another cognitive formulation. Irony doesn't have to be mean-spirited, especially when your characters are so lovable and relatable (enough to assemble into a musical number to end the film!)

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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#70 Post by domino harvey » Sun Sep 27, 2020 12:08 am

Having now seen the Astaire musical A Damsel in Distress, I now get Stillman's reference to its in-title-only cousin via
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the closing musical number in Stillman's film being Astaire and Joan Fontaine's romantic number from the Stevens film

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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#71 Post by soundchaser » Thu Oct 15, 2020 12:58 am

I rewatched this tonight after a particularly excoriating break-up yesterday, and while I don’t think it’s a perfect movie (in spite of my current avatar), I do think it is absolutely a perfect break-up film. There are so many individual sequences that are among my favorite in film, for their frankness and more importantly their sincerity.
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Violet sitting at the diner being told that suicide leaves a mess that other people have to clean up is caustic, yes, but it is also honest and well-intentioned. And despite Stillman’s love of irony, I don’t detect any here or in the sublime rainbow sequence, which I’m not ashamed to admit made me choke up this time around.

And when I think of sincerity, the first thing that comes to mind is the one-two punch of knockout musical numbers at the end, both lightly choreographed but with such joy in them that even though they throw off the structure a little it’s hard not to fall in love.
And so ironically, this incredibly upbeat, love-filled movie is exactly the perfect thing to sink into while miserable. Its affirmation that “Things Are Looking Up” might become a new mantra for me.

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Re: Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)

#72 Post by bottled spider » Sun Oct 18, 2020 10:21 am

James Bowman's glowing review. Revisiting this for the first time since seeing this in the theatres, and subsequent to reading Bowman's review, I was more aware of how much Christianity there is in this. Of course religion is in the background of his other films, but I'd seen it as incidental rather than as an underpinning.

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