Saving Civilization: Whit Stillman’s Damsels In Distress

Back in 2012 we put up this preview to Whit Stillman’s first film after 13 years. Though not a top-drawer prep classic, it’s worth a view for those who can appreciate the writer-director’s subtle humor and critiques of contemporary life.

Stillman, who’s been called the missing link between Woody Allen and Wes Anderson, has previously documented the breakdown of preppy mores in his films “Metropolitan,” “Barcelona,” and “The Last Days of Disco.”

His latest is set at a fairy tale New England college, a former women’s school that was the last of its kind to go co-educational, and its protagonists are “three beautiful girls [who] set out to change the male-dominated environment of their college campus and to rescue their fellow students from depression, grunge and low standards of every kind.”

Here’s the Boston Globe on the film:

“Damsels in Distress’’ deals with eternal emotions even as it seems to take place in a bubble outside our times. The film was shot on Staten Island in the 19th-century buildings of Sailor’s Snug Harbor; it feels like Tinker Toy Ivy League. The score references early ’60s Brill Building pop and swoony movie music like “Theme From ‘A Summer Place.’ ’’ Violet [the protagonist] and her minions are simultaneously retro and up-to-the-minute, enchanting and off-putting.

Much has changed since 2012, and “retro” and “off-putting” seem go together now more than ever. Stillman followed up “Damesels In Distress” with “Love & Friendship” in 2016. — CC

19 Comments on "Saving Civilization: Whit Stillman’s Damsels In Distress"

  1. I can’t wait for this movie. I can’t get over how much Greta Gerwig looks like Chloe Sevigny. It’s almost like Stillman was casting the movie and wanted to use Sevigny again, but realized she was too old, so he just found someone who looked just like her.

  2. Looks like an Ivy League movie I can take my wife to. She doesn’t see the humour in Animal House sadly.

  3. Thanks for this, Christian. I had been puzzling over the US release date for this movie since last summer.

  4. Richard Meyer | February 23, 2012 at 6:16 pm |

    Thank you! Loved Metropolitan.

  5. Well, to each his own, but….

    it looks lame to me… Gee I wonder how it ends? 2 and a half minute trailers that give away the story certainly don’t help build suspense…

  6. How incredibly boring! Give me Woody Allen any day of the week.

  7. @Martin

    Incredible that some men still “take their wives” to the movies in the year 2012. I thought that husbands and wives went to the movies together.

  8. @Fairfax

    This would be a movie my girlfriend would have to ‘take me to’…. Meaning her gas, she buys tickets, and she buys the beer I’ll need to sit through it… I’m only there for moral support….

    A little harsh on Martin though… I think that “taking” a woman somewhere is a pretty common saying. I’m sure he meant nothing by it…. I would feel comfortable saying most men reading this forum have the old time values instilled in them….

    My comment here about her taking me would be an exception though…

  9. Well as my wife is my carer, I am disabled from my military service, she takes me nearly everywhere. However I still like to think the gentleman takes the lady.

  10. This looks like a high school chick flick. No thanks

  11. There is nothing wrong with the notion that husbands take their wives to movies, a restaurant, or anywhere else.

  12. Definitely a movie my wife would like. A chick flick. Even old ladies love this kind of stuff. The wife is always watching nonsense like Mystic Pizza and Notting Hill. Damsels in Distress needs Julia as a dorm mother or something like that.

    I’ll stay at home or golf. She can go with her sisters.

  13. Could the tall blonde girl have a more depressing voice?

  14. DU…Delta U….Delta Upsilon!

  15. Greta Gerwig, who starred in Francis Ha and various other films. A complete drag judging by the body of work featuring her that I have been stupid enough to sit through (of my own accord it should be said). That said, I have no problem with so called chick flicks (or period films) if they are written and cast well and not overtly/overly/clumsily didactic. A good story is a good story is a good story.

    On a completely different note, my light blue OCBD masks by Kamakura arrived last week. Pretty cool if one can say that about reusable surgical masks.

    Best Regards,


  16. Weird. I was just thinking about this movie today.
    Gerwig has an interesting body of work it seems. The most recent Little Women was pretty good in my opinion.

  17. Watched an old movie last night, with Vanessa Redgrave. Mrs. Dallaway. Flashbacks when she was young, with her future husband, and such. A nice period piece, set in the 1920’s in London. Except for the costumes, the plot really stunk.

    What kept me watching was the shell shocked WW1 veteran, flashing back to his seeing his buddy killed. What had that to do with Vanessa’s character? All I can figure out, is that she contemplated suicide, also.

    A couple of lez type kisses, very brief nudity, to tantalize us immature old men.

  18. Too Much Johnson | July 12, 2020 at 5:59 pm |

    Neither saw nor ever wished to see “Damsels” – as much as I have always enjoyed all of Whit Stillman’s other films. A friend did under duress. The only good thing about the flick, according to him, is that one finds out what became of our dear friend Charlie Black.

    @ Herr Professor Doktor Hinez-Ulrich von Boffke – Only “chick flick” that I can even remotely stand is Brideshead Revisited – the 1981 BBC series. Arguably, both the high water mark and gold-standard for costume dramas. Thought it was rubbish at the time. Seems like pure, blindingly radiant artistic genius today in light of what the last forty or so years have brought us in terms of entertainment. “Downtown Abby” is utter drivel.

    @ Wiggles Mrs. Dallaway? 1997? Old!? God, it is I who must be old. Lez kisses and zero plot? Well, I still say that you can’t beat “Showgirls” and “Wild Things” if that is your cup of tea – just hit mute.

    Always thought that someone should have given “Goodbye to All That” the five part BBC treatment in the late 1980s after Graves died. Alas, that moment (if it ever even existed) came and went…

  19. Carmelo Pugliatti | July 13, 2020 at 4:07 pm |

    The only interesting “Damsel in distress” is a Fred Astaire’s movie.

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