FELLOW WHIT STILLMAN NERD BECKY OHLSEN, VIA EMAIL: Well, I'm still bummed that I missed the "Damsels" screening.
ME, REPLYING A DAY OR TWO LATER: Ah, I keep forgetting to send you my pocket review of Whit Stillman's "Damsels in Distress," which is essentially: I think Stillman may have gone slightly mad while he wasn't making movies for 13 years. (NOTE: I do not actually think this.)
The Stillman-y half of the film is about what you'd expect, and it's very deadpan funny, if quite a bit weirder than previous Stillman. Greta Gerwig (who was more or less engineered in a lab to star in this guy's movies) leads a group of college girls on a ludicrous mission to (a) save depressed students with dance lessons and (b) reform the idiot frat boys that overwhelmingly populate the mid-list college the girls attend. Everyone uses elaborate language and manners as a shield in true Stillman style, but it's all MUCH stranger than in his first three flicks -- Gerwig's language masks the fact that she's clinically depressed and OCD and generally batshit insane, and there's one lengthy subplot in which a guy eloquently professes Catharist beliefs to the film's young ingénue so he can try out his favorite sexual positions, &tc. It's all pretty great stuff.
But what REALLY makes the movie kind of enjoyably nuts is that Stillman tries to marry this with a bunch of cartoony slapstick at which he absolutely does not excel at directing. But I sort of loved the attempt (this is not the work of a lazy filmmaker) and how completely personal and '90s-indie-film-sloppy it made the movie feel. Like, you'll have a great bone-dry dialogue scene that's hilarious, and then there will be idiot frat boys falling off things and trying to throw square envelopes as Frisbees, none of it particularly well-executed. It's really bizarre.
Also, the movie has this completely gratuitous bit where Stillman just flat-out tries to invent a dance craze called the "Sambola," and devotes a huge chunk of the end credits to dance lessons, basically. He blames it on Gerwig's character, but you totally know he actually wants people to try it out in real life. You'll see what I mean.
So it's absolutely worth seeing, but strap in. You may be pleased to hear that Stillman has miraculously found a young actor (Zach Woods) who can convincingly play the movie's Chris Eigeman Role -- an arrogant and condescending campus-newspaper editor. You'll see what I mean. Dude's got the voice and everything.
(POSTSCRIPT: OHLSEN'S FOLLOW-UP E-MAIL, A WEEK AND CHANGE LATER: Loved "Damsels." Didn't seem all that crazy to me. Soap and dancing totally cure depression! Also, Adam Brody. Rrrrr. (I really loved the shifting sympathies, too, the way Violet magically defeats [REDACTED]. Greta Gerwig is fantastic in this.)