Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Driven

My favorite films are dark and feminine. Recently, for feminine, there's:
  • The Last Days of Disco (1998, Whit Stillman) glamorous, chic, and witty.
  • Dancer in the Dark (2000, Lars von Trier) dark musical.
  • Amélie (2001, Jean-Pierre Jeunet) so saccharine and girly, although light.
  • Mulholland Dr. (2001, David Lynch) scary Hollywood dream/nightmare.
  • Palindromes (2006, Todd Solondz) dark adolescent satire.
  • Marie Antoinette (2006, Sofia Coppola) pink period/pop art.
  • Volver (2006, Pedro Almodóvar) Classic Hollywood-style domestic melodrama.
  • Black Swan (2010, Darren Aronofsky) scary ballet dream/nightmare.
  • Mildred Pierce (2011, Todd Haynes) the final word in the genre, period.
Damsels in Distress (2011, Whit Stillman) is very light, so it simply cannot be significant for me in a way that actually matters. However, it is riotously funny, softly flowery with a pink feminine touch, and completely bizarre with its own droll ambitions of Classic Hollywood cinematic mannerisms meeting WASPy, adorkably naïve prep school girls who are delightfully characterized through exposition and dialogue.

Violet (Greta Gerwig) is a decoy who initially appears to be Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale) from The Last Days of Disco, but reveals truly unexpected character turns that layer onto her initial appearance--vacuum headed eccentric who seems to aim low, but with an air of superiority, claims virtuosity and altruism (the variant is that Violet is as naïve as Charlotte is cynical). And this is her vehicle to say some of the most insanely offbeat lines I never saw coming. The tone is set in the opening, when Violet scorns some male coed passersby because of their "acrid odor." The score under moments like this is audaciously prim, which signals the film's knowingness of its own satirical edge.

I've spoken a lot lately about how films only convey sight and sound, and that the other senses like smell, taste and touch must be evoked through other means. It's unimportant at this point, but smell seemed a big part of Hunger (2008, Steve McQueen) for me because I felt like he created a constant smellscape of putrid stench. Violet's character evokes smell in several ways. She even goes into a funny speech about how the smell of one's environment has a direct bearing on their state of being.

Violet also speaks with  proper formality and impeccable diction. And it never ceases to be hilarious and charming. (To regretfully digress yet again, Veda from Mildred Pierce has the most brilliant dialogue because it's also period; but, her prim and proper orations are daggers and one of the strongest parts of that film.)

This film constantly reminded me that I was in new territory, which I mean in a good way. It cannot be taken seriously, but it touches serious emotions and ideas. And Whit Stillman is a clever craftsman, in an elegantly minimalist way.

Violet has three close friends who support her adequately. Lily (Analeigh Tipton) becomes very prominent and is intriguing to look at--she has a distinguishing scar on her cheek that almost looks decorative. But of course, Gerwig is the core of Damsels in Distress, and her turn as Violet will be what lasts with audiences.

--Dregs

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