Left to Right: Megalyn Echikunwoke as Rose, Carrie MacLemore as Heather, Greta Gerwig as
Violet and Analeigh Tipton as Lily. Photo by Sabrina Lantos, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
*** This is a spoiler-free review. ***
Damsels in Distress has been available on BluRay and DVD since the last week of September, and I finally got around to watching it. Steve Sailer has previously reviewed this movie, but his review was short and focused a lot on the history of Whit Stillman rather than the movie itself.
Let’s start by noting that the movie was filmed nearly entirely in Staten Island. When’s the last time that happened? Not, I think, since Rodney Dangerfield’s 1983 movie Easy Money, and in that movie they cheated by using a few off-Staten Island locations. Does anyone besides me see the irony that Whit Stillman, known for creating movies about the wealthy elite, picks what’s perhaps the most low-class place in the entire country to film his new movie? However, the Staten Island location was pure accident. Whit Stillman, being the patrician that he is, had never heard of Snug Harbor, the stand-in for the fictitious Seven Oaks College. What type of WASP elite would ever voluntarily set foot on Staten Island? But unable to easily film the movie at a real college campus because he needed to shoot the film in the fall after classes had started, a collaborator suggested Snug Harbor. Stillman also was able to find a nearby Victorian house, a local diner, and there’s even a shot of Greta Garwig walking up and down the steps to the Staten Island Rapid Transit.
After you watch the movie, you will probably want to visit Snug Harbor for yourself, and this I recommend, as it’s one of the few places in Staten Island worth visiting. And it’s usually not very crowded either, because Staten Islanders aren’t very into culture, and there are few SWPLs from Brooklyn or Manhattan who would care to visit Staten Island for any reason. I wonder if there’s anyone living in Staten Island who has even seen the final movie? As previously alluded to, the residents of Staten Island prefer movies such as Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
Unlike previous Stillman movies which have been about the WASP elite, there’s no hint that any of the characters in Damsels are elite. Lily, played by Analeigh Tipton, appears to come from a lower middle class or high prole background, and Violet, played by Greta Garwig, comes from a family of poor writers according to her roommate Rose; and I also guess they were church-attending mainline protestants. In a break from previous Stillman movies, there are even some characters who aren’t white, the most notable being Rose, played by the bi-racial Megalyn Echikunwoke.
Megalyn Echikunwoke is gorgeous. Her Nigerian father is the son of an Igbo tribal leader, so she’s descended from African nobility and not the Africans that the nobility sold into slavery. It’s interesting that such a disproportionate share of successful “black” people in America have a similar background. Our president comes to mind.
I also get the impression that Hollywood doesn’t necessarily select the prettiest white girls to become actresses. Maybe they think that women who are too pretty can be a turn-off to female viewers? The other female actresses in Damsels are cute and pleasant enough to look at, but not smoking-hot tens. I think that Hollywood is trying to teach us a lesson that non-white women are prettier than white women, so stop being racist, damn it. But ironically, they can’t find very many 100% black American women who are both extraordinarily beautiful and intelligent enough to act, thus the deluge of bi-racial and multi-racial actresses.
So yes, Megalyn is beautiful. Her skin is dark, but her facial features are definitely Caucasian-influenced. She lacks the huge lips and flat nose that are common among American blacks. But she has the body of a black woman. She’s more curvy than a skinny white model, but her curves are more muscle than fat. And she has a little bit of a bubble-butt which few if any white women have, but hers is not so large that anyone should be turned off by it.
After this ode to Ms. Echikunwoke, you may be disappointed to learn that she only has a supporting role in the movie. The two main characters are Lily and Violet, played by Analeigh Tipton and Greta Garwig. So let’s talk about Greta. Although I said that she’s not a smoking hot ten, I nevertheless just love looking at her. She manages to simultaneously be a pretty blonde New England WASP and a dorky nerd. Depending upon her clothing, makeup, and the camera angle, she sometimes appears beautiful, and sometimes sort of dumpy looking. She’s the most curvaceous of the four girls with floral names, but unlike Megalyn, her curves are more fat than muscle.
Analeigh Tipton is perhaps supposed to be the prettiest of the girls. She’s tall and skinny. Although she has a young-looking face, there’s something harsh about her facial features, maybe even a little prolish. I prefer Greta.
Now after this long introduction about the location and the actresses, let’s talk about the movie itself. There are those who may think that Stillman lost it. I may have thought that a little at first. Damsels is a much more ambitious project than Stillman’s previous movies which were dramas with witty conversation and a few humorous situations. Damsels is a different genre, and is in fact a mishmosh of genres such as farcical comedy, fantasy, musical, and parody of college movies such as Animal House. It may also be a parody of the 1937 Fred Astaire movie with the almost-same name, but I can’t say for sure because I’ve never watched it. I have to admit that this was disconcerting and unexpected, as the movie started out appearing to be similar in style to Barcelona, and then morphed into all of those other genres.
If an actual college student were to watch this movie, they would probably wonder what the hell they were watching, because the college life shown bears little resemblance to the lives of modern-day college students. No one in the movie is ever shown using a cell phone or a computer! That may actually be slightly untrue because I think that both a cell phone and a computer make a brief appearance, but it happens so quickly that you don’t even notice it. Furthermore, the values of the students appear to be more appropriate to the 1950s than to the present. There’s no hint that anyone in the movie actually had any sex! Imagine that.
What makes two of the deleted scenes interesting is that one of the deleted scenes shows a character using a notebook computer, and the other scene has a much more direct (although still oblique) hint that two of the characters participated in an activity that would be considered sexually immoral. Perhaps Stillman cut those out to make the movie more timeless?
There’s a subplot in the movie involving one of the character’s religious-based very strange sexual practices, but the topic is introduced so obliquely and with such big words and a thick French accent, that the unobservant or the sexually naïve might not even realize what was going on. And only after doing some post-movie research do you discover that Stillman made up a semi-fake-religion for his movie with just enough basis in reality to be believable.
I highly recommend the movie to all of my readers, but with the warning that you need to allow more time than the stated 99 minutes, because in order to truly appreciate this you need to re-watch it, and then watch it again with the commentary track.
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