Whit Stillman – Still a man of wit!


f you haven’t seen Damsels in Distress, you will want to rectify that situation as soon as possible.  The movie is Whit Stillman’s first film in 10 years.  Whit Stillman is notorious for working on a shoe-string budget, which at the very least helps to emphasize the focus on whit and dialogue.  In Damsels the cameras, costumes, setting, were all “upgraded” and generally more elaborate.  I especially enjoyed the cinematography for the film: it had a warm filter to it and made the light values shimmer (especially in the sunny day time shots).

My friend Br. Innocent Smith O.P. wrote an amazing post on Dominicana which somehow managed to include some of my favorite things: kittens, Pope St. Gregory the Great, rainbows (symbol of wonder), and Whit Stillman!  He brings in one of the funnier and quirkier scenes in Damsels to illustrate a point.

Stillman thus playfully captures the harm that can come from unrealistic expectations of future greatness, particularly as Thor’s natural abilities seem more on the level of the kitten than the tiger. By the end of the film, Thor has mastered each of the colors of the rainbow, and takes evident joy in reciting their names; he has learned to flourish in this basic human activity, rather than in the pretensions of his parents. At the very least, he will be able to mix drinks with greater accuracy.

The title of the movie, Damsels in Distress, demonstrates Whit Stillman’s quirky sense of humor.  You would expect this movie to be about a handful of girls in distress and needing to be rescued, however, we find early on in the movie that these damsels are the cool kids, and are actually the ones helping others.  They take a role on the campus as social social workers.  They run a suicide prevention center in hopes of helping depressed students through their tough time.  Speaking of depressed and suicidal students: this seems to me a sort of critique and morbidly hilarious portrayal of student populations in most universities and especially in most graduate programs.  In any case, as the movie progresses we see that these damsels are in fact in quite a bit of distress.

There is not much action in the movie (seeing it in Scottsdale Arizona was hilarious because this elderly couple walked out on the movie the old man grumbling something like “I can’t take it anymore”).  Stillman has downplayed action and movement in the film in order, it seems, to emphasize and give importance to the dialogue.  The witty interchange between characters drives the film’s plot more than action.

Another key element to this film is its high dose of quirkiness.  It’s like someone distilled the Whit Stillman from his other movies and injected that concoction straight into the script.  Then they turned the Stillman Quirkiness up to 11 (apparently it goes to 11).  It’s very Whit Stillman.  If you like Barcelona or his other films, then you will definitely like this one too.  Dr. Swietek at UD, who has a side-job of movie reviewing, gave the movie a B (should have been a B+ at least).  You can read his review here.

Go see Damsels in Distress whiles it’s still in theaters, or wait until it comes out on DVD to see it, but make sure to check it out!

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