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23 October 2011

LoFiFest 2011 Part IV

Tonight was finally the night of the surprise film at the London Film Festival. I've already complained a lot about the disappointment of last year's dull Brighton Rock remake and 2009's Capitalism: A Sermon and I had considered not going this year. But then I heard it was Sandra Hebron's last year as LFF artistic director this year and I thought she would try to make it a good one. Anyway, I bought my ticket but to try to minimise my disappointment, I had been staying away from blogs and discussions speculating on the surprise film, although this afternoon I caved and did a little bit of googling. This post suggested ten possible films, of which four (Moneyball, The Rum Diary, My Week with Marilyn and The Iron Lady) would have pleased me, five would have been fine and only one (The Muppets) would have been a fail as epic as the 2009 and 2010 surprise films.

I opted for the 8.30 screening rather than the 8.15--although this means that you find out the surprise later than the others (I wasn't checking Twitter after 8.15), if, on the off chance, the director and/or cast come along, you're more likely to get a Q&A session after the movie if you attend the later screening. This meant that while I waited for the film to start, I was worried some smart arse was going to loudly tell everyone what the film was but fortunately no one did. Finally, Sandra Hebron came on to introduce the film. She asked the audience to guess what it might be and most people suggested movies that were listed in the blog post to which I linked above. One person got it right, apparently, but Hebron warned us that anyone who knew her taste in films would know it wouldn't be anything obvious (although No Country for Old Men and The Wrestler are recent examples of surprise films that were also "big" films). She also added that some people would probably hate it but she encouraged everyone to give it a chance.

And the surprise film was... Damsels in Distress, which was one of the guesses made by I-flicks.net. With DiD, I think Hebron finally got it right: it was funny and sweet but also very quirky--often downright peculiar, in fact--so perfect Sunday night fodder and, perhaps, something I wouldn't necessarily have gone out of my way to see based on a synopsis. 

It's a little hard to describe the film, but it's about a group of pretty, pastel-loving, Anthro-wearing girls at the fictional Sevenoaks College, who are trying to make the world a better--and more fragrant--place by providing "transformational" soap to smelly frat boys (Romans, in this movie not Greeks) and running the campus suicide prevention centre (where the main therapy is tap dancing). Led by Violet (Greta Gerwig), they take transfer student Lily (Analeigh Tipton) under their wing, although she would rather hang out with her French friend Xavier (Hugo Becker, AKA Blair Waldorf's Prince Louis of Monaco). Violet and the other girls, Rose and Heather, are concerned about the fact Xavier has a girlfriend but worry even more when Lily is chatted up by Charlie (Adam Brody, AKA Seth Cohen), whom Rose dismisses as a "playboy or operator" about 20 times during the film.

Not a lot really happens other than standard, everyday college student stuff: fun is had at the Roman Holidays (Sevenoaks' equivalent of Greek Week); the girls meet guys; Violet splits up from her not-attractive not-intelligent boyfriend and becomes depressed; the girls try to start a new dance movement;  they muse on the correct plural of doofus; and they hand out a lot of soap. Violet, Heather and Rose all speak as though they have fallen out of a 1950s sit-com, with some very old-fashioned ideas about life and relationships; Megalyn Echikunwoke in particular, manages to make Rose's "playboy or operator" (emphasis on the last syllable) mantra hilarious every time she says it. The pink, 1950s-style title cards, which list "the damsels" on one card and, I think, the guys on another, made me think this was going to be some post-ironic, Grease meets Heathers parody and that the characters were going to burst into song any second. Fortunately for me, the only song-and-dance sequence came towards the end.

Hebron was right when she said that not everyone will like Damsels in Distress but I enjoyed it a great deal--many of the audience members, including several guys, would have five-minute fits of laughter, which was quite annoying but a good sign of a popular film. I wouldn't quite say that all is forgiven for the previous two surprise films, but I have regained some of my faith in the concept and I will enjoy seeing what Hebron's successor picks next year.


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