The last time I went to a film screening was when I saw Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco prior to its release in 1998. I was writing a profile of Whit for Civilization, part of which eventually made it into the Teachout Reader, and I interviewed him a few weeks later. It turned out to be the last time I saw him in person, for he went abroad to live not long after that, and he made no more films after The Last Days of Disco–until now.
Yesterday afternoon Whit sent me an e-mail from out of the blue asking if I’d like to see Damsels in Distress, his long-awaited fourth film, which opens in New York and Los Angeles on April 6. I wrote back at once saying yes, and a few hours later I was sitting in the front row of a screening room in midtown Manhattan, remembering how it felt to see The Last Days of Disco for the first time fourteen years ago. I felt a brief pang of nostalgia as I thought about the myriad things that have happened to me since then, some wonderful and some terrible, and marveled at how so many years could pass so quickly. Then the lights went down, and within seconds I was caught up in Damsels.
This won’t be a review–that’ll have to wait–but I do want to say that if you’ve been wondering whatever happened to Whit Stillman, the answer is, quite simply, that he got better. Damsels is a poem of innocence, sweet, smart, whimsical, and singularly touching. Like his other films, it won’t suit everybody, and I don’t doubt that a few people will hate every second of it. Not me. I was carried away, and when it was over, I wanted to see it again on the spot.
Here’s a line from Damsels that I scribbled down on the fly, I hope accurately:
I adore optimism, even when it’s absurd–perhaps especially then.
If that speaks to you, so will Damsels in Distress.
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The theatrical trailer for Damsels in Distress: