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Damsels in Distress (2011)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 9/25/2012
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/20/2012
For many movies, when we hear the actors talk, we rarely think about why they are saying what they are saying. We listen to the words and we just assume that in the reality of the movie, that character is saying those things. However, when a specific auteur is behind the camera, it's the writer/director's voice we are hearing. This is especially noticeable if the filmmaker has made multiple movies -- when the actors talk, we say, "Oh yeah, we've heard this kind of dialogue before." For some directors, this approach works. With Damsels in Distress, we see what happens with the filmmaker and the actors don't click.
Damsels in Distress takes place on the campus of Seven Oaks College. Violet (Greta Gerwig), Heather (Carrie MacLemore), and Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) are three very peculiar girls who attend this school. The run the suicide prevention center, where they prescribe tap dancing to help depressed students. They can't stand male body odor and they only date unattractive boys. They spot Lily (Analeigh Tipton), a transfer student, at orientation and decide to make her part of their group. Lily is flattered by this at first, but as the year progresses, she begins to realize how weird the girls are. Lily has been seeing a boy named Xavier (Hugo Becker), but he has a girlfriend. Therefore, she welcomes the advances of Charlie (Adam Brody), whom Rose keeps calling a "player". Violet dates Frank, but their relationship is undefined. Despite some ups and downs, Violet is determined to remain upbeat and attempt to spread her influence across campus.
Damsels in Distress comes from Writer/Director Whit Stillman who made his mark on the indie scene in 1990 with Metropolitan. He followed this with Barcelona in 1994 and The Last Days of Disco in 1998. These movies gained a following for the way in which they depicted the behaviors of twentysomethings and more specifically, the way that they talked. The films weren't big on plot, but were more about showing a slice of life, specifically of upwardly mobile white people, and capturing a mood. Damsels in Distress is Stillman's first movie in 13 years and he's apparently lost touch with his audience in that time.
From the outset, you'll notice how awkward the dialogue sounds here. The actors talk, often making min-speeches, but the words don't sound the least bit organic. It sounds exactly like what it is -- dialogue written by someone else recited by the actors. Blame goes in two directions for this. First of all, Stillman's words simply don't ring true. There are some clever lines here, but most of it sounds nothing like how real people talk. For example, I liked the fact that Violet ended many of her sentences with "Don't you think?", which was clever, as she really doesn't care what other people think. But, many of the other lines simply fall flat. Blame must also go to the actors. It's difficult to tell if Stillman asked for deadpan performances, but no one here has any emotion when they talk, especially Violet. This just adds to the robotic "parroting" feel we get when the actors talk.
The odd, artificial dialogue gets no help from the movie's bizarre plot and characters. I must admit that I'm not all that familiar with Stillman's work, but I never expected Damsels in Distress to border on the absurd. In the beginning, we grasp that Violet, Heather, and Rose like to talk like intellectuals, but they actually aren't very smart. Their pompous, self-righteous behavior seems to paving the way for a smart farce. But, then the weirdness sets in...and I mean besides the whole tap-dancing thing. Violet becomes obsessed with motel soap. A male college student is revealed to not know the names of colors. Xavier is revealed to have odd sexual proclivities and we suddenly get sodomy jokes...but without the act being named. So, what could have been a charming, if not heightened look at campus life suddenly becomes inhabited with unlikable characters who are doing and saying things which make no sense. The movie swirls into entropy in the third act and any sort of reality goes out the window.
I'm sure that Stillman's fans are glad to see him return after all these years, but I doubt that this is the movie that they wanted to see. I love the idea of the smug girls getting their comeuppance, but the movie loses focus way too early and it's never funny or engaging. Again, the acting feels intentionally stiff and I'm left to wonder onceagain, who is trying to make Greta Gerwig a star. I'm truly not sure who would enjoy this movie, but if the idea of annoying characters tap dancing, then knock yourself out.
Damsels in Distress is too protective of its donuts on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1:85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image is clear, showing on notable grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The image is somewhat soft at times and this robs it of some detail. However, the depth is fairly good. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The party scene in the opening few minutes of the film provides good bass from the music and notable surround sound effects from the crowd. The song during the finale also sounds good, as it fills the front and rear channels. Otherwise, we get a fairly standard track, but the dialogue is always intelligible.
The Damsels in Distress Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Whit Stillman, Analeigh Tipton, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Carrie MacLemore, Adam Brody, and Greta Gerwig. "Damsels in Distress: Behind the Scenes" (10 minutes) contains comments from Stillman and the cast who talk about the story, the characters, and Stillman's directing and writing style. "An Evening with Damsels in Distress" (29 minutes) shows a Q&A with Stillman and the cast from a screening. The Disc contains five DELETED SCENES which run about 7 minutes. We get a 6-minute reel of OUTTAKES. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long