In a recent interview Greta Gerwig described Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress as a candy-coloured black comedy and this is neatly accurate description of Stillman’s return to directing some thirteen years after the release of The Last Days of Disco.
The film is out on DVD today (no UK Blu-ray yet sadly, and this film would really benefit from the transfer) and as it’s a film I wanted to throw a spotlight on and urge you to take a moment to welcome another fine performance from Greta Gerwig.
Once called the mumblecore Meryl Streep Gerwig’s career path is far more exciting than this reductive description offers. If you delve into her early work with Joe Swanberg, one of the key figures in the mumblecore movement, her screen presence already is vital. Her work in Hannah Takes the Stairs and Night and Weekends (which she co-wrote and co-directed) is impeccable, and in the low-budget limelight she has the naturalistic quality so key to the movement yet is able to stand out, to linger in the mind.
In Greenberg it was clear that she was a key talent to watch. Noah Baumbach’s slow burning, feet-dragging moment of recess in the life of Ben Stiller’s titular character was given a breath of life by Gerwig’s Florence, and she made it look easy. She was able to imbue the awkward nature of the lost souls passing like distant ship in the night with a genuine empathy, and match the acerbic cant of Stiller’s Greenberg. Baumbach’s world would have been an angular and painful descent if it were not for Florence, and in a world crowded with Manic Pixie Dreamgirl wannabes Gerwig’s characters make that genuine connection. She is all heart.
In Whit Stillman’s film she is Violet, a too self-aware leader of a tight-knit group of college girls determined to civilise their fellow matriculators. Depression and suicidal tendances are eclipsed through the medium of dance. No-one swears and a Norse God discovers rainbows. It’s beautiful and charming and comes highly recommeded. Adam reviewed the film on its release and Craig sat down with Whit Stillman to talk through his method of working as well as the evolution of the project. It also contains hints about his other projects which, hopefully, won’t have to wait another decade and change to make it to the screen.
When you watch the exclusive behind the scenes clip below you get an idea of the fun Stillman and his cast had in making the film.
When Gerwig talks about being aesthetically aligned to Damsels in Distress and how the on-set anxiety contributes to the great work from the cast you believe her, the evidence is on screen every moment. Her awkward arrogance and charming charity are a pleasure to watch. The film is full of these joys, and you really should seek it out. And if you do, and the mood takes you, there’s something below which you might want to do to express your happiness.
If you can count to Eight, you can do the Sambola!
Now you have no excuses.
Damsels in Distress is out on DVD right now. See the line above.