Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Return of Whit Stillman and his "Damsels in Distress"

This past October the Austin Film Festival screened Whit Stillman’s 1990 debut, “Metropolitan,” to a packed house at the Alamo Ritz, with Stillman in attendance. Having never heard of the film, much less seen it, the screening was a revelation for me. I was struck by how nostalgic the portrait of 1970′s New York was; the holiday, orchestra, and piano-based music, the lighting, and costume design perfectly complimenting the tale of a lower-class urbanite briefly infiltrating the world and ranks of a close-knit group of upper-class socialites.

Admittedly the premise on paper didn’t really strike me as something that would interest, much less entertain me, but the script was so intelligent and witty, and the performances so strong that I couldn’t help but be engrossed by it all. To find out after the film that it was made by the same man behind 1998′s equally wonderful, “The Last Days of Disco” (a film that I was actually familiar with), was both amusing and fitting. It’s been nearly 14 years since that film was in theaters and Whit Stillman has finally returned with another “comedy of manners,” Sony Pictures Classics’ recently acquired, “Damsels in Distress.”

Filmed in Bronxville, New York, “Damsels” stars Indie “It-Girl” (or modern day Chloë Sevigny if you prefer) Greta Gerwig as the leader of a trio of girls pro-actively (in their eyes) working to change their college environment plagued by “male barbarism,” naive female freshmen, and suicidal classmates. Based on the trailer it seems like it will retain Stillman’s passion for dry high-minded wit, while adding touches of dark-comedy and whimsy. It kind of looks like “Clueless” by way of “The Rules of Attraction.” The cast also includes Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton, and Aubrey Plaza. “Damsels” was the closing night film at the 2011 Venice Film Festival and received positive reviews, there is still no American release date yet, though rumors suggest early March.

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