After waiting for an hour and half outside Cinefamily, Mr. T and I packed into the pinhole camera of a theater for a sneak preview of Damsels in Distress and a Q&A with writer/director Whit Stillman and actor Analeigh Tipton. Before an audience of 180+ cinephile hipsters, Tipton unabashedly admitted her ignorance of Stillman’s existence until she got a clue from Julianne Moore on the set of Crazy, Stupid, Love. Though that may be blasphemous in some circles, you can’t really blame her. Having only directed a handful of films, Stillman is best known for the verbiage of his Manhattanite-white-teen-problems cult hit, Metropolitan, with which he made his directorial debut in 1990 (the same year that birthed Ghost, Home Alone and Pretty Woman).
So what drew Tipton to Stillman’s latest script? The plethora of dialogue to parse, of course, plus the five female leads. Greta Gertwig stars as Violet, the leader of a misguided well-to-do clique of undergraduates who, under the guise of a flimsy premise, adopt Lily (Tipton), a stray transfer student with marked potential. Grappling with her crush on a sexy but anally religious grad student (Hugo Becker of Gossip Girl fame), Lily is thrust into the group’s philanthropic endeavors which include providing donuts and therapeutic tap dance lessons at the campus suicide (prevention) center, in addition to dating fraternity brothers with limited mental capabilities. But when said frat boy unknowingly strays into the arms of another, Violet finds herself
depressed in a tailspin. Her quagmire of quirks deepens into crusade as she passes out soap bars to hoards of co-ed philistines and attempts to popularize the Sambola (a hybrid of tango and cha-cha). The best suicide prevention however, arrives in the form of a new beau (Adam Brody) because, as the film’s ending demonstrates, it takes two to dance and a gentleman to save a damsel in distress. Whether you cheer for Violet’s brand of crazy or Lily’s staunch quest for normality depends entirely on your attitude towards the bourgeois. As Zadie Smith said: “When using this word it is essential to remember that it is completely bourgeois to say of something or someone, “How bourgeois.” If you do not mind this inference, then the word is at your disposal.” Continue reading