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USA 2011
Directed by
Whit Stillman
99 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
3.5 stars

Damsels In Distress

Synopsis: Violet (Greta Gerwig), Heather (Carrie MacLemore) and Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) are a trio of sophomore college students who are determined to help those less fortunate than themselves. They begin by taking Lily (Analeigh Tipton) under their wing.

I dread to think what Neil LaBute would have done with this material, but I kept thinking of him and his excoriating analyses of middle-class entitlement throughout this film. Stillman is a far gentler writer, but he skewers people no less well. I think the difference is that Stillman loves his goofy characters, rather than despising them. And Damsels In Distress is a very, very goofy movie about goofy girls and the strange, rarefied world they inhabit. It’s cartoonish, but anyone who ever went to university will remember the naïve and self-important discussions in-between classes, so while you laugh you may wince a little in remembrance as well.

The absurd but well-intentioned plans of the girls include tap dance classes to help depressed and suicidal students, gifts of soap to a fraternity known for their bad body odour, and an insistence on dating men less attractive and intelligent than themselves to help them achieve more in life. It’s ridiculous, but that’s the point.

Damsels In Distress is a highly stylised absurdist comedy and Stillman and his actors are clearly having a lot of fun. It is beautifully shot and performed, infused with whimsy and full of highly mannered and elegantly-constructed dialogue. If you don’t like talky films, stay away from this film, but if you love clever writing you’ll adore it. It does sag in the middle, and as a series of vignettes more than a story, plot isn’t exactly a strong point, but I found I didn’t really mind. It’s a hoot the whole way through.




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