For Reel


Love & Friendship (2016)
June 7, 2016, 12:35 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Whit Stillman
3.5 Stars
Love & FriendshipWith four films that chronicle the manners of the social elite to his name, it hardly seems a stretch for writer-director Whit Stillman to adapt a great social satirist of the 19th century. Stillman adapts Jane Austen so notably different than anyone who has attempted it that Love & Friendship works as literary criticism—gone are the sweeping romantic parameters, where corsets and bodices barely restrain the pleasures of the flesh. Instead, Stillman focuses on relationships that are very much linked to one’s financial self-interest. To Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale), acquiring a husband is no different than finding a business partner. True to Stillman’s style, everything is played impossibly dry—in fact, as an artist he seems to be parodying himself with his humorous use of character introductions and superimposed text. They are stylistic motifs reminiscent of Wes Anderson, only Stillman’s artifice is meant to encourage the false pretenses of these characters. As comedies get crasser and more outlandish, it is nice to have an alternative where the humor comes from pointed jabs and asides. If dialogue is king in the film, however, Tom Bennett’s performance as Sir James Martin (“a bit of a rattle”) is a show-stopper. He arrives in the film as a runaway from a Monty Python sketch—full of awkward pauses, misinformed tirades, and a ceaseless giggling cheer, making the man both a memorable dunce and impossibly lovable.



Metropolitan (1990)
October 2, 2015, 7:45 pm
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Director: Whit Stillman
3 Stars
MetropolitanUtterly unclassifiable, Whit Stillman’s debut film recently saw a rerelease 25 years after the fact, but it is a film where what is contemporary is almost irrelevant. The world of Metropolitan is entirely its own, with characters speaking in dangerously literate talk and having more in common with the Jane Austen novels they discuss rather than any specific period in the last century. What’s interesting is how matter-of-fact Stillman’s treatment of them is–it is easy to make clowns out of characters who come to call themselves the Urban Haute Bourgeoisie, but Stillman recognizes some essential truths in their delusions. Anyone who has been through grad school will appreciate the scene where Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) elaborates that he doesn’t read books, rather literary criticism. It’s curious that the picture never shows the debutante balls that are so essential to the plot. Had they behaved and spoke in the manner that they do at a ball, perhaps the posturing would be mistaken as appropriate. Occupying apartments and removed from these occasions, however, these characters are only further alienated from characters that we’re used to seeing on screen, posing at an cultural ethos that is defined by half-truths to begin with.



Damsels in Distress (2011)
June 27, 2012, 7:02 am
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Director: Whit Stillman

Since 1990’s Metropolitan, Whit Stillman has been addressing the social elite – that is, characters that would be flattered to be christened as yuppies – with a uniquely stylized dialogue that is heavy on wit. In Damsels in Distress, the familiar artificiality of Stillman’s universe is transplanted into Seven Oaks, an east coast college wherein, according to Violet, a trend-setting blonde played by Greta Gerwig, male barbarism predominates. Violet and her disciples take on a promising new-comer in the similarly florally-named Lily, and together the group seeks men who have not yet realized their full potential in an act that they consider to be charitable. The female cast is impressive – Gerwig is as natural a screen presence as any actress of her generation, and Analeigh Tipton, an America’s Next Top Model alumni with irresistible doe-like eyes, plays the fledgling debutante with a refreshing lack of gullibility. Where Stillman falters is in his men, not exclusively in the way that they’re written (ostensibly as simple-minded brutes), but in the performances, which are too broad for an Adam Sandler vehicle. Whereas an actress like Megalyn Echikunwoke can earn a laugh with her umpteenth delivery of “playboy operator”, the central frat boys seem desperate every time they’re on screen, grinding the picture to an unfortunate halt.