Damsels in Distress Blu-ray Review
The renowned writer/director of METROPOLITAN and THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO surfaces after a 12 year absence from American film making with the female centric DAMSELS IN DISTRESS. The story revolves around a small college group of socially awkward debutantes who are ironically obsessed with proper behavior and the rules of culture. When the group of friends decides to welcome in a frail yet strong-willed transfer student, it forces them to reevaluate their own judgments they so easily pass on others.
You wouldn’t think great writing could produce a bad film, but it seems writer/director Whit Stillman has discovered that exact formula. The dialogue in this film is highly intellectual but it’s also incredibly unrealistic, which actually would not be a problem if the story either did or did not take place in a heightened or stylized reality. Instead, the film bounces between the two, constantly stripping away at the viewer’s mind set. It also does not help that all those big words and intellectual prowess are directed in exactly no particular direction. If DAMSELS IN DISTRESS has an actual plot, it must be hiding in the Cliff’s Notes. At first it looks like it’s going to be a “coming of age” story, then it takes a dark turn toward depression and suicide, then toward an odd romantic comedy. The only constant in the script that must read like a college lit. text book, was the inconsistency.
However, since the writing was so technically sound, it did require quality performers to recite it, which is the strongest asset this film has going for it. Greta Gerwig (ARTHUR, 2011) plays Violet, the ringleader of the group who is never at a loss for comment on any subject. Gerwig is phenomenal in this role as she is able to convey a simultaneous sense of mastermind and dimwit in a character that ultimately is more fragile than anyone. Playing the “straight man” is Analeigh Tipton (CRAZY, STUPID LOVE.) who is one of the most likable actors that has come along in quite a while. Even though her character Lily can be a little harsh on anyone that she deems less intelligent than her, Tipton’s unique beauty and strong yet innocent demeanor is still able to pull it off without even slight malice from the viewer.
As strong as the acting is though, it’s equalized by the extremely boring styles of directing and editing. The story is broken up into meaningless chapters by way of abrupt fade ins and outs that add nothing in terms of artistic value. And just when you think you’ve acclimated to the tone of the film, it steers even further away from reality and becomes an homage to the musical days of Fred Astaire.
DAMSELS IN DISTRESS is not the type of film that just needs the benefit of multiple viewings either. Yes the writing is very intellectual, but comprehension is not the problem. Like a reverse form of Alzheimer’s, this film hypnotizes the viewer into a lucid trance, just begging for even a brief moment of cloudiness and some semblance of real-world conversation.
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Hues and colors are deep and rich, and overall sharpness is good in this transfer, giving the picture that added “pop” that all HD content should have.
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital 5.1 Dialogue is crisp and clear on this disc, and it’s a good thing too, because there’s plenty of it.
Commentary with Writer/Director Whit Stillman and Cast: Stillman is as odd and intellectual as the characters he writes, but mostly muddles through this commentary, speaking very low and taking long breaks while the cast members scrounge for something to say.
Damsels in Distress: Behind the Scenes (10:10): A featurette with interviews from the cast and crew mostly just lathering each other with the standard accolades.
An Evening with Damsels in Distress (28:38): A sit down stage interview in front of an audience with Director Whit Stillman and the full cast. This is at least better than the commentary and behind the scenes features, but it’s still mostly softball questions and compliments galore.
The Art of the Gunfight (10:16): A featurette on the making and choreography of a gunfight. Actually quite interesting as it’s a topic not frequently addressed. Just as much, if not more, thought goes into a gun fight than hand to hand combat.
Deleted Scenes (7:08): Once again, scenes that were deleted for a good reason, and when the movie is bad, an even better reason.
Outtakes (5:59): These are always better than the deleted scenes because you never get a truer sense of a person than when they are screwing up.