Damsels in Distress (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
September 24, 2012 by Dennis Amith
Cleverly written, delightful and full of humor, “Damsels in Distress” is worth recommending on Blu-ray! While “Damsels in Distress” is a good film, it has its shortcomings. But I suppose compared to other college films, instead of binge drinking and everyone trying to get laid, in retrospect, I’m quite grateful that Stillman avoided such banality. But I do feel that with Stillman’s return, things can only get better from here and I look forward to more of his films to come!
TITLE: Damsels in Distress
FILM RELEASE: 2012
DURATION: 102 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Defiition (widescreen 1:85:1), English, French 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics
RATED: PG-13 (For Mature Thematic Material, Including Some Sexual Material)
Release Date: September 25, 2012
Written and Directed by Whit Stillman
Produced by Whit Stillman
Co-Produced by Charlie Dibe
Line Producer: Jacob Jaffke
Consulting Producer: Cecilia Kate Roque, Alicia Van Couvering
Music by Mark Suozzo
Cinematography by Doug Emmett
Edited by Andrew Hafitz
Casting by Kerry Barden, Anya Colloff, Amy McIntyre Britt, Paul Schnee
Production Design by Elizabeth J. Jones
Art Direction by Brian Goodwin
Set Decoration by Emmanuelle Hoessly
Costume Design by Ciera Wells
Greta Gerwig as Violet
Carrie MacLemore as Heather
Megalyn Echikunwoke as Rose
Analeigh Tipton as Lily
Ryan Metcalf as Frank
Jermaine Crawford as Jimbo
Caitlin Fitzgerald as Priss
Zach Woods as Rick DeWolfe
Domenico D’Ippolito as Complainer Student
Nic Blaemire as Freak AStaire
aburey Plaza as Depressed Debbie
Hugo Becker as Xavier
Merdedith Hagner as Alice
Adam Brody as Fred PAckenstacker/Charlie Walker
Billy Magnussen as Thor
Aja Naomi King as Positive Polly
Jordanna Drazin as Emily Tweeter
Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress is a wonderfully off-beat comedy about a student, Violet (Greta Gerwig), who seeks to transform life at her college. With friends Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) & Heather (Carrie MacLemore) she takes under wing seemingly nice transfer student Lily (Analeigh Tipton) who soon attracts the attentions of both “playboy-operator” Charlie (Adam Brody) & dreamboat grad student Xavier (Hugo Becker) — but it’s Violet who will end up crushed.
Whit Stillman, the director who brought us “Metropolitan”, “The Last Days of Disco” and “Barcelona”.
Known for his acerbic intellectual wit from the youth of high society and their views of the world, Stillman has experienced a lot from attending Harvard and his grandfather E. Digby Baltzell was responsible for coining the term WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant). Having captivated viewers thanks to his film’s use of intellectual dialogue, a style reminiscent of French New Wave filmmakers such as Eric Rohmer and Francois Truffaut, perhaps the most surprising factor in Stillman’s career is that he stopped making films after “Barcelona” in 1994.
The director moved to Paris and began a new life for himself as a writer-for-hire. It’s not that he stopped writing, in fact he had worked on adaptations of memoir’s according to an interview in “Town and Country” (April 2012) for Mao’s China “The Red Azalea”, Christopher Buckley’s “Little Green Men” and even wrote a movie that is set in 1960’s Jamaica.
As for fans, many continued to share their love for his films all these years. To this day, fans of his film continue to share quotes on Facebook pages such as “Urban Haute Bourgeoisie” (a term used in his first film “Metropolitan”) and many have hoped for a sequel. Well, at least a return to the American preppie.
And so Stillman returned. Writing “Damsels in Distress” created with private money, created with a low budget and once again, a film that continues his use of intellectual dialogue and received favorably by film critics nationwide.
And now Whit Stillman’s “Damsels in Distress” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
The film is set at a fictional East Coast College known as Seven Oaks. A university that uses Roman instead of a Greek System and a university where a trio of girls have set to change the atmosphere of their university. The trio which includes leader Violet Wister (portrayed by Greta Gerwig, “Arthur”, “No Strings Attached”, “Baghead”), the proper woman with a British accent, despite only visiting the UK only once, Rose (portrayed by Megalyn Echikunwoke, “90210”, “House of Lies”) and the inquisitive Heather (portrayed by Carrie MacLemore).
And this trio needs a new member, and what best to find one on orientation day. And there they find transfer student Lily (portrayed by Analeigh Tipton).
Because Lily is in need of a place to stay, she’s offered to room with the trio and invited to be a friend and member of their group. Lily is surprised by how the women communicate with each other. Intellectual use of words, acerbic towards the men attending the college, especially those who don’t take care of their hygiene and give off bad body odor.
So, repulsed that Rose looks as if she is going to faint, while the Violet and Heather follow in disgust.
Amused and surprised by her new friends, Lily learns that her new group of friends want to rescue their fellow students from depression and low standards. So, they try to help people with depression.
Meanwhile, despite the bad talking about men… the four deal with various type of guys at their college.
Lily likes a guy named Xavier (portrayed by Hugo Becker), who practices Catharism. But when he has a girlfriend, her interest suddenly turns to Charlie Walker (portrayed by Adam Brody, “The O.C.”). Violet dates a a frat guy named Frank who is not good at spelling, nor is he smart. And Heather is seeing a guy named Thor (portrayed by Billy Magnussen), who went to college to learn about colors.
And as the four women try to help the depressed and end up bringing in a new fifth member into their group, a once-depressed young woman named Priss (portrayed by Caitlin Fitzgerald), the group try to promote the use of dance to counter depression. But the editor of the college’s newspaper, Rick DeWolfe (portrayed by Zach Woods) and Violet are used to butting heads, and he doesn’t believe Violet’s belief of dance helping people who are depressed.
But the women stay strong as a group and Lily starts to find herself understanding Violet a bit more, and things start to make sense.
Until things start to hit rock bottom after Violet and her friends catch Priss and Violet’s boyfriend Frank making out together.
This leads to Violet to a dark road of depression and slowly, Lily starts to discover the truth about Violet.
“Damsels in Distress” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1). Although this film was shot with private funds and for the most part, low budget. Whatever you do, don’t think about the quality of how Stillman’s “Metropolitan” was. “Damsels in Distress” is a vibrant film featuring natural skin tones, very good detail during closeup shots, black levels are nice and deep. For the most part, “Damsels in Distress” looks amazing on Blu-ray and I saw no problems with the video during my viewing.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Damsels in Distress” is presented in English and French 5.1 DTS-HD MA and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. The film is primarily dialogue driven and is primarily heard through the center and front channels. That is until you get to scenes with music, which also sounds as crystal clear as the dialogue. The film does incorporate a more musical feel towards the latter part of the film but I heard no problems whatsoever during my viewing of this film.
Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.
“Damsels in Distress” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Director Whit Stillman, Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Analeigh Tipton and Carrie Maclemore.
- Damsels in Distress: Behind the Scenes – (10:10) Extended featurette featuring the cast talking about working with Whit Stillman, other cast members and their characters
- Deleted Scenes – (7:08) – Featuring six deleted scenes.
- Outtakes – (5:59) Featuring outtakes from “Damsels in Distress”.
- Theatrical Trailer – (2:23) The original theatrical trailer for the film.
I love Whit Stillman films and from me, sharing quotes from his films on Facebook’s “Urban Haute Borgeousie” group page, what many of us have in common is our thirst for intellectual comedy.
And I know that his films are not for everyone. For the most part, “Damsels in Distress”, similar to “Metropolitan” tend to focus on people who appear or are privileged, come from a well-to-do family and for the most part, “preppy”. But its that humor of the outsider being taken into a group and seeing how they do if put into that situation.
In “Metropolitan”, we were introduced to an intellectual named Tom, who comes from a family with not much money, but yet, is somehow pulled into the circle of the have’s and because of the intellectual conversations, despite how he may see some people as pedantic, they are are a far cry from troglodytes.
For “Damsels in Distress”, it’s much more milder, set at a college with one character who does most of the talking, but its what comes out of her mouth that surprises us. “Damsels in Distress” continues that Whit Stillman style of wit, in an acerbic intellectual tone but yet makes the character and their moments in the film so fun and delightful to watch.
For example, here is a conversation between Violet and Heather discussing what they want the group to accomplish with the guys on campus:
Violet: Our aspirations are pretty basic – take a guy who hasn’t realized his full potential – or doesn’t even have much…
Heather: Someone like Frank!
Violet: Yes. Then help them realize it or find more. There’s enough material here for a lifetime of social work.
And for those who have missed the more intellectual conversations that were amusing and fun, here is a quote between the characters of Lily and Charlie:
Lily: “There no logic to the algebra of love.”
Charlie: “The algebra of love? Sounds like the title of some lame book.”
Lily: “It’s a title but the book’s not lame at all.”
Charlie: “Love’s algebra? I always thought it was more geometry.”
Lily: “Okay, the title’s not good but the book is.”
Charlie: “What’s it say?”
Lily: “Well, that while we’re all perverse in our preferences, there’s actually this logic, or algebra to our perversity. And it has something to do with how the species has evolved.”
Charlie: “The survival of the species?”
Lily: “Yes, and whether it will continue to do so.”
And with these intellectual conversations, I have always wrote in my reviews of Stillman films of how these conversations remind me of French New Wave and sure enough, a scene where Xavier talks to Lily about Jean Renoir and Francois Truffaut.
Often, when I meet other social intellectuals, from time-to-time, the Whit Stillman discussions do happen. What is it about his films that captivate us. Is it because these characters seem as if they are on another planet or is it because inside, there are some people who want to be part of the Whit Stillman world.
For “Damsels in Distress”, Violet is similar to Tom of “Metropolitan”. Both can carry on intellectual discussions, they seem as if they come from wonderful, educated families but in truth, they’re not. Violet is a person who was teased and didn’t have that great of a childhood, but when you get out of high school, you have the choice to choose a new life for yourself. Something different than what you were before.
And her decision was to be a proper woman, even if it means building herself and making her feel as if she’s part of the intellectual elite at “Seven Oaks”. She’s so good at it, you don’t know if she’s lying or she has the facts to back it up. In one scene, where she is defending in class the importance of dance, she comes up with names of people who created the Waltz, the Charleston and the Twist. She sounds so convincing that everyone believes that she is correct.
As for Rose and Heather, we learn how Rose is more of the person who adds stability to Violet. Similar to Violet, she has also created her own persona, making people think she is British because of her English accent. But I wish this was probed a bit more. Was Rose a character that wanted to distinguish herself from African-American women, that having a accent distinguishes her?
As for Heather, I would describe her character as the inquisitive follower, while Lily is the person who is there to challenge Violet of why she thinks a certain way. And it’s quite interesting to see these two women communicate with each other because in one sense, you wonder if they really dislike each other or just tolerant individuals.
I really enjoyed “Damsels in Distress” but I wish the male characters were consistent with their female counterpart. I know it’s seems like a broken record to keep bringing up “Metropolitan” but what I loved about that film is that men and women were on the same playing field. Both sides were intellectual and were able to share deep conversations.
With “Damsels in Distress”, the men are dumb, liars or cheats. For the man paired with Violet, the character of Frank was a mismatch. Not only did he appear as the stereotypical dumb jock, you just don’t see how Violet could be with this man. For Heather, being with Thor, another man who is not so smart.
Fortunately, you have Adam Brody playing the role of Charlie Walker, but in reality he’s Fred Packenstacker, a guy who lies and makes him seem important in order to meet women. But fortunately, he is able to engage in intellectual conversation with both Violet and Lily and quite interesting is his interest in Violet’s dance day. There’s chemistry there that works! As opposed to Frank who talks about women, hacky sack and the only thing that seems to come out of his mouth is “dumb bitch!”.
But this is college afterall. And I’m sure many of us can say we have met people like Frank.
I do want to bring in something that was quite interesting is the discussion between Lily and Xavier on Cathars. Cathars were adherents of an ascetic Christian movement in Europe. And in the discussion, he preferred sex via sodomy than from the front because of his religious beliefs. And this led me to researching about Cathars and I found it interesting of how Stillman introduced it into the film and made me wonder why.
With Stillman’s appreciation for French New Wave, it felt as if Stillman wanted to lead to a deep conversation about religion. The scene takes place not long after Lily and Xavier are talking about the French New Wave, but while watching this, immediately popping into my mind was Eric Rohmer’s “My Night at Maud’s”. What I loved about the film is how Jean-Louis and Maud engaged in a discussion of Pascal’s notion of “Pascal’s Wager”. In the film, Maud becomes intrigued by Jean-Louis and his religious moral code.
After Lily and Xavier discuss the Cathar’s and the discussion of sex does come up, you know the discussion of sex only from behind is not a topic that will fascinate Lily, in fact, she seems more frightened by it. But for “My Night at Maud’s”, the discussion was important in order to bring closeness between the Catholic Jean-Louis and the free-spirited Maud. The discussion seemed to work in reverse for Xavier and Lily, I was just fascinated by how Stillman would include it on the film. Fortunately, the Blu-ray release does include audio commentary!
As for the Blu-ray release, “Damsels in Distress” looks fantastic on Blu-ray and its lossless audio is complimentary to the film (I wasn’t expecting surround sound but mostly ambiance). There are also a good number of special features included as well, especially an intriguing audio commentary involving Stillman and the main cast.
Overall, “Damsels in Distress” is a good welcome back for Whit Stillman. I have wanted to see this director return because his films are so different but yet delightful. His films make me rewind, savor each quote and share it with my friends because it makes me laugh. While “Damsels in Distress” is a good film, it has its shortcomings. But I suppose compared to other college films, instead of binge drinking and everyone trying to get laid, in retrospect, I’m quite grateful that Stillman avoided such banality.
And aside from the intellectual dialogue which I enjoyed, an out of nowhere musical scene also appears in the film, which I enjoyed as well.
“Damsels in Distress” may not be better than “Metropolitan”, but I do feel that with Stillman’s return, things can only get better from here and I look forward to more of his films to come!
Cleverly written, delightful and full of humor, “Damsels in Distress” is worth recommending on Blu-ray!
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