I have my favorite filmmakers. Wes Anderson. Paul Thomas Anderson. People not named “Anderson.” Now, I have a new filmmaker I think might be a favorite, and that’s Whit Stillman.
I had heard of Stillman, but had never seen his films. Then, I was looking for comedies on The Criterion Channel, which are not easy to find. The Last Days of Disco popped up, and I decided to give a shot. I was absolutely delighted by it. It’s so good. Funny, sharp, clever, punchy, well-shot, well-acted, just strong all around. I don’t like disco. I wasn’t around in the early ‘80s. I have never been a monied New Yorker. Doesn’t matter. The movie rules.
Stillman’s debut, Metropolitan, also is on Criterion, so I watched that next. It’s also top notch. Again, it’s about a world I have no connection to, but it was still so funny and sharp. Here’s how much I was taken by these two films. I watched his most-recent movie, 2016’s Love & Friendship, on Amazon. I watched Barcelona, the middle film in his “Doomed-Bourgeoisie-In-Love” trilogy, on Hoopla, which is a streaming service for libraries. I got a free trial for Showtime to watch Damsels in Distress. In the course of one week, I watched all of Stillman’s films.
He has a distinct style that just grabs me. His films are hyperverbal. He loves shooting dance sequences. Also, he seems to try and coax a particular acting style from his cast, but he knows how to find people for that. There’s probably a reason he reuses several actors over the years. Also, he cast Greta Gerwig in Damsels in Distress, and she’s perfect for his style.
What’s interesting is that all his characters are unlikeable by and large, but they are supposed to be. He’s poking fun at certain types of people without tipping his hand. Stillman doesn’t beat you over the head with it. There’s just something about his chatty, self-involved pseudo-intellectuals butting heads I just really enjoy. Also, Chris Eigeman, an actor I had no knowledge of previously, is great in all three of Stillman’s first three films. Like, Oscar-worthy work. Or at least Golden Globes-worthy, since they have a comedy category.
The loose trilogy of Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco are the must-sees in my mind. I only wish I had seen them in order, because they build on each other, which I did not know when I turned Disco on. Damsels in Distress is also really good and worth watching if you dig that trio. Love & Friendship is for completists only. It’s good, and I liked it, but it’s definitely a step down.
It’s nice to get swept up in the works of a new filmmaker, even if the films aren’t necessarily new. I already have an itch to rewatch The Last Days of Disco having the whole filmography in my head now. Then, I will talk about the films for hours with my egotistical friends, not really saying anything significant the whole night.