Title: Damsels in Distress
Director: Whit Stillman
Starring: Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton, Greta Gerwig
Release Date: April 27th
Damsels in Distress is writer-director Whit Stillman’s first film since his 1998 feature, The Last Days of Disco. Stillman has emerged from his abstention with this wonderful campus comedy, full to the brim with feel-good antics. The first damsel we encounter is sophomore transfer student Lily (Analeigh Tipton) on her first day at the fictional Seven Oaks University. Opinionated Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke), naïve Heather (Carrie MacLemore), and their painfully blunt leader Violet (Greta Gerwig) spot her from across the room and begin to bequeath a healthy dose of condescending advice to the sickly Lily. Although their interference is welcomed by Lily at the onset, it gradually becomes more and more apparent that she must distance herself from this messed-up group. The Samaritan set, led by the wide-eyed Violet, run a suicide prevention centre amidst the arcadian grandeur of the University. The girls battle the suicide epidemic by dispensing generous doses of doughnuts and offering tap-dancing lessons to the unfortunately unhappy students.
The damsels, as characters, could be accused of being wholly unlikeable and altogether unrelatable to the viewer. They represent a contrived and unapproachable social sphere that we hope never to encounter – Tipton’s Lily is too weak and Gerwig’s Violet comes across as too disturbed to bare any recognition to real people. None of the damsels, nor indeed the fraternity brothers they are attempting to woo, are very appealing characters; although highly interesting individually in their own gruesome way, and positively entertaining when placed in the same space as one another.
To say that this film has a story would be a generous statement. It has a wide variety of characters; these characters come with emotional baggage, but they forgot to pack a plot with them. It is altogether unclear as to where the ‘plot’ falters, perhaps as prematurely as when the advertisements began. Stillman still manages to affirm his reputation as the new Woody Allen with the beautiful rendering of this film. The camera work and quirky scene changes save it from becoming rom-com garbage. While the script could have benefitted from more external input, Stillman’s dialogue is still entertaining to say the least.
Despite the generous doses of humour the script is a meandering one; the focus of the film is, at times, indistinct and testing of the viewer’s patience. Though juxtaposing what is technically an annoyingly tortuous plot with a delightfully visual character portrayal, Damsels in Distress proves to be a surprisingly refreshing experience.
In a Nutshell: Sharp, witty dialogue complete with a good helping of absurdity.