Damsels in Distress – 2 stars
All good things . . . Whit Stillman lost his patience and made a lazy film. Rather than allowing us to cozy up to his affluent young characters, understand their milieu, and then enjoy their erudite yet innocent banter, he dispensed with development and jammed the quirky kids right down our gullet.
A transfer student to a tony private liberal arts college is identified by a trio of society girls who decide she needs their counsel and guidance. All four negotiate a lampoon of a Seven Sisters campus replete with neanderthalic frat boys, sneering campus journalists, and neurotic coeds.
There is no subtlety to this picture. The characters aimlessly drift into various Stillman exchanges, waiting their respective turns to say something Stillmanesque, like, “Do you know what’s the major problem in contemporary social life? The tendency to always seek someone cooler than yourself.”
There is more cleverness than that, but little intelligence, warmth or draw. Like Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, which proved Kubrick probably had not had a sexual relationship in decades, Stillman seems too far removed from youth to master even a very broad comedy about young people.
And broad it can be. When one of the girls runs away to sort out her feelings after she finds her boyfriend has cheated on her, she goes to a low-rent motel. “Were you at a Motel 6?” her friends ask. “The Motel 4 – it’s even cheaper.”
Stillman has achieved bad Woody Allen. Not much fun, especially when he takes us out of Manhattan.
The film is often amusing, but the characters, never particularly realistic in Stillman pictures, are cartoons. Worse, every actor knows Stillman, and they’ve brought their Stillman A Game. The dialogue is stilted and even charmless. Oh for Chris Eigeman, who last I saw, stole a scene in HBO’s “Girls.”
The movie borders on a Whit Stillman spoof, though that really can’t be, at least until we get a proper David Mamet spoof.
He also cribs from his own work. A character has a fascination with a dance craze as social movement, just like a character in The Last Days of Disco. When you’ve only made 4 films, this is bad news.
It is no recommendation that it ends with two dance numbers.