starring Kate Beckinsale, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenweil, Chloë Sevigny
based on the novella Lady Susan by Jane Austen
written & directed by Whit Stillman
by Angelo Muredda When Whit Stillman emerged from his thirteen-year sojourn in the wilderness after The Last Days of Disco, it was with the pastel-washed curio Damsels in Distress, practically a radio transmission from a planet of the auteur's own construction. Where his Metropolitan and Barcelona dropped anchor in immaculately-observed social environs (Manhattan's waning debutante scene and the European refuge of loquacious Americans, respectively), Stillman's modestly-budgeted return to filmmaking holed up in a dreamlike and not especially convincing college setting, where Gatsby-esque self-inventors sought to transform their ugly little world through good soap and new dance crazes. A deeply hermetic work even by Stillman's standards, Damsels in Distress feels in retrospect like a minor but necessary stepping stone back to the better realized but still heightened reality of Love & Friendship, a signature work that is nevertheless Stillman's most accessible to the uninitiated. Despite marking his first adaptation--of Lady Susan, a short, posthumously-published epistolary novel by Jane Austen, whom he has long worshipped--the film is as pure an expression of the Stillman style and worldview as any despite its largely English cast and the sincerity of its period trappings as a 1790s costume comedy about the machinations of the rich, the formerly rich, and the rich-adjacent.