Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011)
Sandra Hebron’s last choice as LFF surprise film proved hilariously divisive. As the cast, shot in gauzy cheap-looking HD video, deadpanned the first lines of Stillman’s arch, absurdist dialogue over Mark Suozzo and Adam Schlesinger’s preposterously kitsch underscore, I could feel the hostility in the room boiling over almost instantly. And, to be fair, Stillman’s film is deliberately alienating – challenging you to be on its decidedly obscure wavelength with an unpredictable mix of ultra-precious whimsy, deliberately unconvincing characters (most of whom, irony piling upon irony, are ineptly playing false roles within the film’s narrative), hilariously cheap gags and gimpy musical numbers (just to give you a flavour: Adam Brody and Greta Gerwig appear to dance on water in a fountain, to Gershwin’s Things Are Looking Up (from the P.G. Wodehouse-penned Fred Astaire movie, A Damsel in Distress) but the cheap-looking platform they are actually dancing on is right there in plain view). Although Stillman’s previous films were somewhat mannered and artificial, they also had one foot in reality, a concept which Damsels in Distress has no particular time for.
So, fair warning: Your Mileage May Vary. But I had a great time.