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Review Round-Up: Whit Stillman’s ‘Damsels in Distress’

Review Round-Up: Whit Stillman's 'Damsels in Distress'

Surprisingly, writer-director Whit Stillman’s low-budget HD relationship comedy “Damsels in Distress” has earned 81% on the Tomatometer since its debut at Toronto, where the “Metropolitan” and “Barcelona” director earned some nostalgic kudos due to his thirteen-year absence from the big screen. His marks will likely come down a tad by the time critics weigh in before the film opens April 6. 

For some, Stillman’s self-important, whiny, over-privileged undergrads, who are not nearly as clever and adorable as they think they are, will play like nails on on a chalkboard. As Rose, sarcastic damsel Megalyn Echikunwoke steals the show from lead Greta Gerwig as clique leader Violet; Stillman himself admits that he did not plan this. Gerwig will survive this minor entry; her burgeoning credits include Woody Allen’s “To Rome with Love” and Daryl Wein’s “Lola Versus.”

Early review and a trailer are below.

“…wobbly and borderline twee, but it deepens as it goes along and becomes rich…Stillman has hold of one of the best of all high-comedy themes: what Henry James, writing about Ibsen (not, admittedly, a laugh riot), called ‘the individual caught in the fact.’ Stillman’s youngish characters love theories—embracing old ones, constructing new ones, always on the lookout for a way to frame experience and protect themselves from getting emotionally blindsided.”

“American cinema can ill-afford to lose voices as distinctive and intelligent as Whit Stillman, which makes the writer-director’s return from a 13-year hiatus with the wonderfully off-beat comedy ‘Damsels In Distress’ a cause for celebration. While this campus lark might not be quite up to the level of his three previous pictures, it’s close enough to justify hopes that 59-year-old Stillman will now realize the tantalizing projects he’s been linked with over recent years.”

“Stillman’s film is a tribute to emotions and genres a half-century old — sort of ‘Gidget’ meets ‘The Group.’ Innocence deserted teen movies ages ago, but it makes a comeback, revived and romanticized, in this joyous anachronism.”

“A film that raises laughs even with its end credits, Whit Stillman’s whimsical campus comedy ‘Damsels in Distress’ is an utter delight. Making a welcome return to helming after a long sabbatical following 1998’s “The Last Days of Disco,” Stillman proves he still knows how to write crackling, articulate dialogue for quirky preppie characters whom he loves laughing at as much as with,..Those inclined to dislike Stillman’s work won’t be persuaded otherwise by ‘Damsels,’ but fans will be more than satisfied.”

“Stillman is in fine form, depicting this campus as a kind of Ivy League Idiocracy: There’s an ‘Anal Love’ association, talk of the ‘Decline of Decadence,’ and there’s much to like in this new and looser Stillman. But if his films were always overstuffed with riffs and ideas, this one — after his taking time off for over a decade — does feel like too much was pent up. There are too many dance numbers, particularly since Stillman is more comfortable with talking heads than moving bodies: As a director of motion, he’s all left feet. With sharp line readings, Gerwig plays Violet as a stylized and inhuman construct, a farcical creature who inevitably wears out her welcome.”

“…an often toxic and obnoxious fantasia about a brittle clique of arrogant women at a fictional college. To be sure, it definitely feels a part of Stillman’s catalog, but somehow the snobbery has curdled. It’s too close to ‘Gossip Girl’ to feel adorable.”

“…while its (at times self-aware) cleverness is great fun, Stillman can’t keep up the energy, as by time the ‘Damsels In Distress’ gets to its two closing musical and dance numbers (yep) our interest in the film had long since waned,..the daffy universe the film takes place in requires an act of good will on behalf of the audience that isn’t always rewarded.”

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