Damsels In Distress (2012)

Inducted into their group following an encounter at Seven Oaks’ registration, transferring sophomore Lily (Analeigh Tipton) finds herself playing Devil’s advocate to self-appointed voice of reason Violet (Greta Gerwig), ditzy southerner Heather (Carrie MacLemore) and practising Englishwoman Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke). As Lily fawns over a French post grad (Hugo Becker) and flirts with an enigmatic professional named Charlie (Adam Brody), Violet attempts to start a dance craze called the Sambola in an attempt to change lives and prevent student suicide. There, that didn’t take long.

I tend to think I have a relatively high threshold for twee nonsense, having previously enjoyed the purposefully off-kilter likes of Juno and (500) Days of Summer. Hell, I even quite liked Bandslam, and that had a character in it called Sa5m (the 5 being silent, obvs.). While such films might boast more gimmicks and whimsy than you can (violently) shake Wes Anderson at, they are often wry and discerning enough to compensate for the obvious cringe factor. With Damsels in Distress, however, writer-director Whit Stillman’s first film in 13 years, the barrage of quirks and contrivances is so unrelenting and po-faced that you no longer feel like you’re watching a story following actual human beings; rather four junior Stepford Wives who rate unusually highly on the autism spectrum, and their various male pets.

Stillman draws a universe in which all frat-boys, bar one, are born stupid, the majority unable to so much as recognise colour; where the traditional Greek fraternities are instead named after the Roman alphabet, just because, and pupils study subjects such as flit lit; and one that attempts to treat teenage suicide with special soap and a novel dance craze. Authenticity is inevitably in short supply, one subplot falling back on a fabricated French religion that sanctifies anal sex and worship on a Tuesday. With just about every character suffering from at least one zane (isn’t grammar fun?) – whether it’s depression, neuroticism or bog-standard learning difficulties – not even the combined talents of Greta Gerwig and Adam Brody can produce one iota of emotional investment through relatability. Seriously, it’s very nearly sci-fi.

In fact, while Violet perfects her dance craze, Rose affects an entire English upbringing and Heather struggles to grasp that Xavier isn’t spelt with a Z (whole minutes of my life, GONE), the only characters that really make any semblance of an impact are those we aren’t supposed to care about in the first place. In particular, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World‘s Aubrey Plaza delights as elitist depressive Debbie, a reluctant tap-dancer who takes pride in her clinical diagnosis, while the idiot frat-boys are game enough to play their pitiful roles for laughs smiles. Everyone else is lost in a tangle of contradictions, a complexity which might have been commendable if it weren’t so hatefully obnoxious. With their aloof hypocrasy and constellation of idosyncracies, our heroines are almost as thinly spread as the tangent-prone, self-indulgent plot.

While a general air of broad satire saves it from complete redundancy (Lily at one point notes that the world is run by normal people, and not the hyper-individualised kind who populate Stillman’s movie), Damsels in Distress retains a strange irrelevance that reflects its timeless, context-free setting. With characters that behave precisely as the (admittedly intelligent, if over-written) script demands, and a structureless plot that goes off in hugely pointless tangents, this is not an easy movie to stomach, let alone genuinely enjoy. As for the dance itself, it’s not quite Footloose. Or even the Hoedown Throwdown.

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

One Response to Damsels In Distress (2012)

  1. Pingback: May 2012 – It appears to be some sort of cake « popcornaddict

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