Damsels in Distress (Stillman, 2011): Various venues throughout London from Friday April 27.
No apologies for suggesting a trip to see a new film as widely anticipated as this one. In the run-up to the release of Whit Stillman's first movie for 13 years there have been a number of excellent articles welcoming back this distinctive film maker. I especially enjoyed this feature by Michael Newton in the Guardian and this by Richard Brody in the New Yorker. Enjoy. This is the release I have most looked forward to so far in 2012.
'Missing, believed defunct, writer-director Whit Stillman returns to the fray like an emissary from an older, gentler, more well-mannered America – a land that surely never existed outside of his own wistful imaginings. Damsels in Distress, his first feature since 1998's The Last Days of Disco, is an unabashed joy, a weightless soap bubble in the guise of a campus comedy. Don't draw too close. A single breath might make it pop.
Stillman's tale comes to us in blushing, hyper-real colours, disporting itself at length around the Arcadian splendour of fictitious Seven Oaks University, where the students mislay their morals amid the Greek Revival architecture. Happily help is at hand in the form of Violet (deliciously played by Greta Gerwig), the wide-eyed queen of the Samaritan set. Violet establishes the "suicide prevention centre", dispenses free donuts and tap-dance lessons and earnestly lobbies for the preservation of the frat-houses on the basis that its boorish members are "morons" and therefore "handicapped". And yet Violet, like everyone else in her orbit, is prone to the odd misstep and tumble. She confuses intrigue with charity and is halfway in love with the boys that she helps. "He's lying," she remarks of one feckless Lothario. "I find that very attractive."
If it's possible for a picture to be at once ideal and imperfect, then Damsels fits the bill. The script meanders from pillar to post. The focus, at times, turns milky and indistinct. No doubt a more ruthless, profit-driven film-maker would have tightened the bolts and press harder on the accelerator. And yet this would have risked destroying the tale's peculiarly airy, buoyant magic. Nobody creates characters as wonderfully wonky as Stillman's: these star-crossed, hopelessly articulate Corinthians have a habit of confounding even themselves. The director keeps them in a holding pattern, testing our patience, pushing us to the brink of exasperation, before pairing them off with a lordly, casual elegance in the final few moments. He leaves them dancing jubilantly over the closing credits, lost in the moment, in harmony at last.' Xan Brooks
Here is the trailer.