Damsels In Distress
- Director: Whit Stillman
- Genre: Comedy
- Cert: 15A
- Details: US / 99mins
Whit Stillman's long awaited follow up to 1998's The Last Days Of Disco isn't as good as it sounds - a Jane Austen meets Heathers-in-reverse drama.
The unbearably likable trio of Violet (indie darling Gerwig), Heather (MacLemore) and Rose (Echikunwoke) plan to make life better for the students at their college with a two-step suicide prevention plan: good hygiene and dance. Welcoming newcomer Lily (Tipton) into the mix, the girls embark on a series of relationships that... don't have anything to do with anything. Apologies, but trying to somehow retrospectively shoehorn a plot into this movie would be a lie because it's just a bunch of barely-connected stuff that happens.
Damsels In Distress's problem is that apart from Tipton, the characters here don't exist anywhere on planet earth. In a robotic fashion, Violet, Heather and Rose go to college parties because that's what people do in college – they go to parties. They dance at these parties because that's what people do at parties – they dance. Ruled by a strict logic, the girls don't respond to verbal abuse if there is a modicum of truth in the abuser's words. The boys that orbit their strange little world are equally odd. One of them doesn't know his colours (not colour blind – he doesn’t know his colours), which might be funny in an Adam Sandler movie but the joke, and so many like it, is so out of place here.
Tipton is the audience – despite the extraordinary waistline, she's the ordinary girl plonked down into this world and finds it as alien as we do. Usually, the film would be shot through her eyes but director Stillman only uses her to show the audience how different everyone is (think Winona Ryder in Heathers) and then discards her. She turns up every now and then but to what end is confusing. Damsels In Distress is all about Violet.
When you have endless scenes where characters lie in their bunks just talking you know the film lacks forward momentum. Sometimes a plot hints at taking off - Violet thinks she wants her boyfriend back; the college newspaper gets a new editor and rubs Violet up the wrong way; Lily's French boyfriend has odd sexual preferences based on his religion – but nothing ever comes of it. What is amazing is that despite the airiness and flakiness on show Stillman manages to have everyone on the same page, which is some feat considering the wishy-washy nature of it all.
It stumbles upon comedy from time to time: Gerwig has the odd quotable line ("Speaking of suicide prevention, do you have a boyfriend?") and Echikunwoke's pronunciation of 'op-er-at-or' is funny the first and second time you hear it – by the eight time, however, it starts to grate. Much like the movie as a whole.
Review by Gavin Burke | 12:19 | Friday 27th April 2012 | Movie Review
After a Terrence Malick-like absence of some 14 years, director Whit Stillman (The Last Days Of Disco) returns to features with the witty Damsels In Distress. Indie queen Greta Gerwig plays Violet, a leader of a Heathers-like college clique who zeroes in on new student Lily (Analeigh Tipton). She inducts Lily into the local college rituals and frat boy antics. In particular, she introduces Lily to the clique's core work - working at the college's suicide prevention centre to help the lovelorn through tap dancing (!). The main cause of these damsels' distress is the men in their lives, who come across as not-too-bright. The performances are good throughout, especially Gerwig who could be the next Zooey Deschanel. Amusingly quirky and charming at first, the film tends to drag in its centre section, as if it was trying to figure out where to go next. It picks up towards the end though with a song-and-dance sequence that might affect your final opinion of this film. It's as light as a souffle, but if you like quirky films then this one is for you.Posted 10:47 | Sat 28th Apr 2012
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