Damsels In Distress Cast
: Greta Gerwig, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Carrie MacLemore, Analeigh Tipton, Adam Brody, Hugo Becker, Ryan Metcalf, Billy MagnussenDirector
: Whit Stillman Genre
: MRunning Time
: 99 minutesSynopsis
: Seven Oaks is an East Coast college with beautiful Greek Revival architecture and a boorish male student population. Decades after coeducation's arrival the male atmosphere still prevails.
A dynamic trio of girls - group leader Violet Wister (Greta Gerwig), principled Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and sexy Heather (Carrie MacLemore) -- sets out to change all that, as well as rescue their fellow students from depression, grunge and low standards of every kind. They spot lost-looking Lily (Analeigh Tipton) at New Student Orientation and take her under wing to guide her through the world of Seven Oaks.
First stop is a weekend dance at the D.U. fraternity, part of Seven Oaks Romanletter fraternity system - "Youth Outreach" in Violet's parlance. She introduces Lily to Frank (Ryan Metcalfe), her naïve but enthusiastic D.U. boyfriend. After leading everyone in dancing, Violet explains her own lifetime goal - to start an international dance craze that might enhance "the life of everyone and every couple."
Next the girls introduce Lily to their main activity, running the university's "Suicide Center" where a regime of donuts, good coffee, and musical dance numbers are intended to distract severely depressed and suicidal students from self-destruction. There they quiz Lily on her love life - "boyfriends are a major suicide risk." Lily reveals that over the summer she became "pals" with a grad student named Xavier though he has a girlfriend Lily likes too.
When a young student rushes in, he's immediately sat down for a coffee, donut and in-take interview. When Jim Bose - his friends call him "Jimbo" (Jermaine Crawford)-- says that he lives at Doar Dorm the girls gasp: Doar Dorm is notorious for its foul odor. Finding a better smelling place to live might assuage his depressed state, they advise. Jimbo says it's not himself but Priss, a beautiful girl in his dorm, whom he's worried about. After a sad break up she's gone silent. The campus cops are called as the group rushes to Doar Dorm, rescuing Priss (Caitlin Fitzgerald) with police help.
At the Coffee Cottage Violet consoles the distraught Priss, recently dumped by her blue eyed boyfriend, Josh. Lily joins them. After somewhat assuaging Priss's distress, Violet suggests they go to the orientation meeting at the Seven Oaks' newspaper, The Daily Complainer, though warning that its editor, Rick DeWolfe, is conceited and arrogant. On the walk to the Complainer Lily questions whether Violet might not seem a little arrogant too. "A rebel is amongst us!" Violet declares but says she welcomes such "chastisement."
At the Complainer's office Rick DeWolfe (Zach Wood) strikes an arrogant note, mocking one of Violet's preferred therapies, tap dancing, as "moronic and barbaric. You seriously expect tap dancing to solve these people's problems?" Back at the Suicide Center Violet reassures "'Freak' Astaire" (Nick Blaemire) but faces an outburst from Debbie (Aubrey Plaza), a black-clad depressive.
Meanwhile Lily visits handsome grad student Xavier (Hugo Becker) and his girlfriend, Alice (Meredith Hagner); as they prepare a meal Lily shows herself strangely ignorant of artichokes and balsamic vinegar. Another day Violet proposes to cheer Priss up by taking her over to meet the guys at the D.U. while Lily peels off to visit Xavier again. When Violet expresses her foreboding, Lily snaps back.
Xavier catches up with Lily, inviting her to drinks at the Oak Bar where Alice joins them. As Lily and Xavier argue about Rick DeWolfe's campaign to extirpate Seven Oaks' Roman-letter fraternities, Charlie Walker (Adam Brody) -- a suave young businessman -- sends drinks over to their table.The next day the nature of this gesture sharply divides the girls -- Rose calls it a classic "playboyor oper-a-tor move," while Violet sees it as generous and romantic. When the apparent playboy Charlie takes Lily out and seems to be plying her with martinis Xavier interrupts to "rescue" her - to both Lily's and Alice's annoyance. Consumed with jealousy, Alice soon departs Xavier's life leaving the way open for him to begin a relationship with Lily.
Meanwhile Priss has started hanging out at the D.U. with Frank whose blue eyes intrigue her; there she encounters Thor (Billy Magnussen), an incongruously studious frat brother who's defensive about the very basic educational subjects he still has to cover. A sudden reversal sends Violet into a tailspin and slowly the contradictory narrative of her life and those around her is revealed.Release Date
: September 6th at Cinema Nova, Melbourne
September 13th at Dendy Newtown, Sydney
There's a saying that the way to end up in the future one wants is to invent it oneself.
It's hard not to admire the idealists who, not content with the existent world, seek to invent new ones. But the confidence and mastery these future-architects embody often disguise a fragile persona that's frail, inadaptive and, finally, easily shattered.
In the film the word "tailspin" plays a key role. In aviation, the term evokes the image of a plane in steep dive, nose-first, spiraling downward. The second, informal usage is "a loss of emotional control sometimes resulting in emotional collapse."
Just as pilots use steep dives to build speed and regain control, pulling out just before they hit ground, our heroine finds downward velocity reforming her life - but in steep descent one cannot be sure a fatal crash will be avoided.
--Whit Stillman, August 2011
Production Narrative- Whit Stillman
Returning to college to visit friends sometime after graduating everyone was full of stories of an amazing group of girls who had revolutionised campus social life. They dressed up, wore perfume and transformed university socialising which in our day had been grungy and grim.
I never knew the girls or learned any specifics of their escapades but, proposing a college comedy to film companies, I found that analogous groups had emerged at many other colleges in the wake of coeducation. Suddenly I had a film idea more than one company wanted.
Coeducation had swept American university campuses in the very late 1960s and more particularly the early 1970s. But years and decades later some colleges with distinctly male identities still lacked an atmosphere entirely comfortable for women. Our idea was that "Seven Oaks University" would be such a school - a formerly male bastion where decades after coeducation an atmosphere of male barbarism still prevails.
I was fortunate that the project ended up with Liz Glotzer and Martin Shafer at Castle Rock Entertainment with whom I had had such good experiences making Barcelona and The Last Days Of Disco.
Again the experience of writing a script for them was exhilarating, as such supervision rarely is. In late January 2010, a month after submitting the delivery draft, standing on the deserted and windswept main street of Mark Twain's old haunt -- Virginia City, Nevada - I got the call that they wanted to go ahead with a "polish" with the idea of moving ahead with the film soon after.
For the production the pivotal moment came in the spring when we were discussing how to raise financing - the usual frustrating obstacle course of star casting, foreign presales, equity financing, and searching for a domestic distribution deal loomed. Having seen two good projects become hopelessly stuck in that morass I had been thinking of how it could be avoided. The experience with our first film, Metropolitan, had been to go ahead with whatever resources were at hand and that had gone well. The response was that for a film on that scale, or even quite a bit above it, private investment would be immediately available. We were a go but our production had to be compact.
We had already started casting in Los Angeles with the young casting team of Amy Britt and Anya Colloff. Through them we had almost immediately found Analeigh Tipton (part undecided), Aubrey Plaza (part undecided) and Megalyn Echikunwoke for Rose.
I was starting from the usual position of ignorance with the excuse this time that I'd been living abroad. The film style known as "Mumblecore" I had heard of but not actually witnessed or strained to hear. A meeting with the highly recommended Greta Gerwig was set for a West Village watering hole. As a striking pretty blond we assumed that it would be to play the "bombshell" Lily part.
Fortunately Greta Gerwig had the insight to see herself in the Viloet part, and she and her agents did not adhere to the stultifying rule that established actors not audition. After the casting base had shifted to Paul Schnee and Kerry Barden's operation in New York (Kerry Barden had helped cast The Last Days of Disco) Greta Gerwig came in to perform the Violet role in all its aspects, including stellar singing and tap dancing turns.
At one casting session Amy Britt and Anya Colloff brought an actress in to read for Heather who seemed a bit unlikely for that role. It had been a discouraging morning with the script sounding like wood in the mouths of the talented performers who came in and I was in despair.
Suddenly the wooden words made great sense in this actress's version. She still seemed a stretch for Heather but - in what I learned was a "Mumblecore" pattern - the good actress turned out to be good at other film tasks too: in this case, a terrific director. Lena Dunham had just won the top prize with her film Tiny Furniture at the South by Southwest and was involved in all sorts of promising activities.
This was a key meeting. Lena Dunham became a friend to the production, helped at a table reading, agreed to play a funny part in the film until work on her TV show intervened and - most importantly - introduced us to her film's co-producer, Alicia Van Couvering. The line producer Cecilia Roque had advised us on all our films and would help on DAMSELS as well. We had the idea of combining the production approach we had taken on the previous films with the techniques and young crew Mumblecore films such as Lena's used. Alicia Van Couvering would help set the path we'd follow. Through her we found the key young crew who would execute the film: coproducer Charlie Dibe, line producer Jacob Jaffke and cinematographer Doug Emmett. Then at a key moment Cecilia brought in the highly experienced indie Assistant Director Curtis Smith to run the set.
In New York the casting sessions run by Paul and Allison Estrin found a trio of actors who came in with beautifully worked out comic performances: Ryan Metcalfe as Frank ("do you mind if I try a version that's a little broad?"), Billy Magnussen bouncing off the walls as Thor (and later destroying a couple of costly radio mikes in his energetic performance - but worth it), and the very funny when sad Caitlin Fitzgerald as Priss. They would all be united in a colourful D.U. frat house scene.
An authentic Southern belle -- from both Mississippi and Alabama - Carrie MacLemore was a knockout for the key Heather part, Jermaine Crawford (known for his work on "The Wire") would be Jimbo, and Nick Blaemire, a skilled musicals hand, "Freak" Astaire.
The shoot was a true case in Youth Outreach. Almost no one seemed much older than twentyfive and the great mass seemed college age or just out. They were joined by collaborators who had worked on nearly all our films such as Cecilia, composer Mark Suozzo and editor Andy Hafitz. Key for our shoots has been finding a central location where much of the work can be achieved. For Damsels locations manager Chris Menges found the dream location of all time. About the Location - Snug Harbor
Except for a day on a Brooklyn sound stage the entire film would be shot at or just around Sailors' Snug Harbor in Staten Island, New York - legally within the New York City limits but geographically and culturally (if that's the word) connected to the New Jersey-Pennsylvania mid- Atlantic land mass which we had always considered the probable locus of the fictional Seven Oaks.
Snug Harbor, also known as the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, is a collection of architecturally significant 19th century buildings set in a park located along the Kill Van Kull on the north shore of Staten Island in New York City. It was once a home for aged sailors and is now an 83-acre (340,000 m2) city park. Sailors' Snug Harbor includes 26 Greek Revival, Beaux Arts, Italianate and Victorian style buildings. The site is considered Staten Island's "crown jewel" -- "an incomparable remnant of New York's 19th-century seafaring past" - and has been declared a National Historic Landmark District.
Snug Harbor was founded by the 1801 bequest of New York tycoon Captain Robert Richard Randall who left his estate to build an institution to care for "aged, decrepit and worn-out" seamen. When Sailors' Snug Harbor opened in 1833, it was the first home for retired merchant seamen in the history of the United States. It began with a single building, now the centerpiece in the row of five Greek Revival temple-like buildings on the New Brighton waterfront. Captain Thomas Melville, a retired sea captain and brother of Moby-Dick author Herman Melville, was governor of Snug Harbor from 1867 to 1884. Architecture of the Site
The five interlocking Greek Revival buildings at Snug Harbor are regarded as "the most ambitious moment of the classic revival in the United States" and the "most extraordinary" suite of Greek temple-style buildings in the country. With the 1833 Main Hall as the centerpiece, five stately Greek Revival buildings "form a symmetrical composition on Richmond Terrace, an eight-columned portico in the center and two six-columned porticoes on either end."
The New York Times' architectural critic Paul Goldberger wrote, "Snug Harbor has something of the feel of a campus, something of the feel of a small-town square. Indeed, these rows of classical temples, set side-by-side with tiny connecting structures recessed behind the grand facades, are initially perplexing because they fit into no pattern we recognise - they are lined up as if on a street, yet they are set in the landscape of a park. They seem at once to embrace the 19th-century tradition of picturesque design and, by virtue of their rigid linear order, to reject it."
The 1833 administration building by Minard Lafever is a "magnificent" Greek Revival building with a monumental Ionic portico, and is the architect's oldest surviving work. It was renovated in 1884 with "an eye-popping triple-height gallery with stained glass and ceiling murals," and restored in the 1990's. Greenery of Sailors' Snug Harbor
All five of the famous row of Greek Revival buildings are individually landmarked, as are the 131-year-old chapel, which has been renovated as a recital and concert space; the Italinate Richmond Terrace gate house (1873), the mid-nineteenth century iron fence surrounding the property, and the interiors of the Main Hall and the chapel.
The buildings are set in extensive, landscaped grounds, surrounded by an individually landmarked, nineteenth century cast iron fence. They include a beautiful 1893 zinc fountain featuring the god Neptune, now indoors with a replica in its place. According to the New York Times, "He sits in the middle, astride a shell held aloft by sea monsters, his trident raised. Jets of water spurt from the fountain's center and from bouquets of metal calla lilies to its sides
Noisy New York and its busy harbor only 200 feet (61 m) away, beyond Richmond Terrace, might just as well be on Mars. Or at least at the other end of His Majesty's sea."
(Credit for Snug Harbor history: Wikipedia.)
Also on the grounds is a bronze statue of Robert Randall by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and the Staten Island Botanical Gardens, which provide the exotically floral setting for the cast to dance through during two stanzas of George and Ira Gershwins' depression remedy, "Things Are Looking Up!" The Damsel and Their Distress Character and CastViolet Wister
(Greta Gerwig) is the indomitable group leader -- though later shown somewhat dominated -- whose central project is looking for troubled souls to rescue. "Violet has the element of the child who goes around looking for hurt birds," says Whit Stillman. "Her group is a self-designated animal rescue league, looking for 'hurt birds' they can assist. Unfortunately they sometimes misidentify a bird that isn't a hurt; sometimes the hurt bird strikes back." Says Greta Gerwig: "Violet has such strange convictions, but she stands behind them so firmly and tries to get everybody else to see them too. The more people make fun of her and tell her she's crazy, the more it steels her to the task of improving the world and helping people improve themselves. While she's convinced that she's right about certain things, she's also pathologically open to being wrong. She's a glutton for punishment, which I think is very funny-she almost seeks disapproval so that she can improve herself." Violet later also turns out to be quite different than she initially presents herself to be. Rose
(Megalyn Echikunwoke) is Violet's closest collaborator and the two have a long backstory. While Violet is sometimes painfully open to other people's criticism, Rose is more judgmental. "Rose is the opinionated voice of reason in the group," says Megalyn Echikunwoke. "She tends to be practical, but she's got some pretty strong ideas about certain things, especially college life. She presents herself as a bit of a snob" -- manifest in her skeptical attitude toward a variety of men as "charlatans," "playboys" or "op-er-a-tor types" - though much of this is almost certainly a comic pose. "The Rose character is based on the Anglo-colonial Caribbean women I've known who greatly impressed me with their strong personalities and oblique humor," Whit Stillman says. None of this was in the character description when Megalyn Echikunwoke came in to read for the part but during the audition Whit Stillman asked if she could try it with an accent. Megalyn Echikunwoke had just been visiting a Nigerian-British friend who had a snob British accent. "The British version immediately clicked with the character," Whit Stillman said. "Though Megalyn Echikunwoke did a brilliant job with the accent we always wanted to use its fraudulent conception in some way." Occupied with pre-production and then the shoot Whit Stillman didn't write the Rose back-story scene until the morning before the shoot's final day but it ended up a signature moment in the film. Heather
(Carrie MacLemore) is the third wheel in Violet's group. Petite and sweet, she has developed unique theories regarding the relationship between physical characteristics and human behaviour. "Heather is not tremendously smart but has a lot of candid opinions and is not afraid to turn those opinions against herself," says Whit Stillman. While conceding that Carrie MacLemore's ideas are odd, Carrie MacLemore doesn't believe that Carrie MacLemore considers herself to be unintelligent. "I play her as the brightest person ever," she says. "Carrie MacLemore is always explaining really basic things to people, and I think that if you're always doing that, you must actually think you're smarter than everyone else." Carrie MacLemore's background - an authentic Southern belle who grew up in Mississippi and Alabama and only recently came to New York - gives a texture to her performance filling out the central trio. Lily
(Analeigh Tipton) is a new transfer student to Seven Oaks, whom the Violet group immediately seeks to rescue from "failure and sadness." "Lily is a normal, middle-of-America girl. She doesn't know a lot of things, and she's suddenly pulled into this very elaborate world by Violet, Rose and Heather," says Analeigh Tipton. "She's a little hesitant; she finds it a bit weird, but she decides to ride that vibe for awhile." While Lily generally displays all signs of being a sophisticated young woman, there are occasional moments where we catch sight of her provincial background. She grew up in the kind of house where the only vegetables came in cans and a "dry" town where one had to drive far to buy alcohol legally. She allows herself to fall under the influence of a handsome but holds to her own conformist views against Violet's extravagant ones. Charlie
(Adam Brody) is the suave young businessman who attracts the attentions of two of the women in the group. "Charlie is a man of strong ideals and opinions," says Adam Brody. "He's extremely nostalgic for a bygone era of art and manners and civility in expression, of being chivalrous. He's a really good guy, and yet at the same time he thinks that making it up and lying are different things, as long as his intentions are good." Says Whit Stillman: "Charlie is a person with the gift of gab who has considerable imagination without much outlet for it at Seven Oaks. His creativity goes into developing an alternate identity which strangely complements Violet's similar tendency. Like everyone else though he is initially, and for a long time, attracted to Lily who is a bit of a tabula rasa on which expectations can be projected. But Lily has her own nature that's not a blank." Charlie proved the hardest part to cast. "We had submissions for lots of wonderful actresses but no Charlies came close," Whit Stillman says. Consulting Producer Cecilia Roque had worked with Adam Brody on The Romantics and strongly recommended him. "Finally on an unexpected late trip to Los Angeles we could meet. Adam Brody immediately had the part and carried it out with aplomb. Nothing could be faster and better than shooting with Adam Brody." Xavier
(Hugo Becker) was originally conceived as an American character -- "Tom," a handsome grad student, attractive to women but otherwise quite conventional. His adherence to Cathar Love was to have been his "interesting" incongruity. "We never found an America Tom," Whit Stillman says, "Maybe Cathar Love scared them off or our girl dominated story. We were in extremis when Paul Nelson of Mosaic submitted an audition of Hugo Becker's on tape. Hugo Becker's version combined attractiveness and charm with the strangeness of the character." It was a struggle getting Hugo Becker a visa in time - he still had a slender resume in France and had not yet been crowned as the romantic "Prince Louis" of Gossip Girl. The nationality change also meant changing the character's name and the script - the "Xavier as Xorro" debate came out of these last minute revisions.