(Whit Stillman, 2011)
Whit Stillman has not directed a film in the fourteen years since The Last Days of Disco. And yet, so consistent with his earlier work and distinctive is Damsels In Distress that it feels almost as if he has not been away at all. Like his earlier work it focuses upon a small group of educated young people set apart in a world predicated on order. In this case that world is a New England College, and the people are a group of co-eds who fasten onto a new student and instruct her in their ways and beliefs. They try to help and improve their fellow students - particularly the males - led by their eccentric alpha female, the hyper-articulate Violet (Greta Gerwig). All the while, Stillman allows them romances and emotional crises, most of it wound around his trademark conversational style. His characters discuss ideas, always with wit, a self-conscious erudition and disarming earnestness. Indeed, a surfeit of ideas is a Stillman characteristic. Not many romantic comedies are so dense with interest in the most casual dialogue exchanges. But this is no ordinary romcom. As much a droll, wonky comedy of manners, it appears to somehow reflect Stillman's own time away from cinema in Violet's depressed escape from College, his return echoed by her own decision to embrace a joyous cultural phenomenon. It is dryly funny throughout and contains a few big belly laughs, and the cast catch Stillman's tone and handle his dense, literate dialogue beautifully. Gerwig and Brody are the biggest stars here, and both are wholly appealing, believable and even lovable whether they are discussing soap, the correct spelling of Zorro, the plural of doofus or sexual practices among Cathars. Stillman's elegant style is mostly invisible before it becomes most expressive for his climactic, joyous musical sequence. In short, Stillman remains Stillman, and cinema needs such unique talents.