Music Feature

Film Review: Damsels in Distress

by Piers Marchant
Whit Stillman finds his inner John Hughes.

Dir. Whit Stillman
Score: 6.7

Whit Stillman's latest film -- his first since 1998's The Last Days of Disco -- may be a riotous campus comedy, but it's not particularly for college students (or non-native speakers of English). Erudite, verbose and affected as the rest of his lexicon, the movie is damn funny and sharp, but a far cry from beer bongs, toga parties and silly pratfalls.

That is, unless you count emotional pratfalls, of which there is a plethora. The film centers around a co-ed at the fictional Seven Oaks College named Violet (Greta Gerwig), an ultra-sensitive and altruistic type who routinely thanks people for chopping her down, and her sympathetic companions, Heather (Carrie MacLemore), a well-meaning but incredibly unseasoned optimist, and Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke), a cynical American who speaks with a British accent after spending a month in London. As we meet the three muses, they are in the process of padding their roster with a new addition: The less obtuse realist, Lily (Analeigh Tipton). Together the foursome work at Violet's Suicide Prevention Center, which seeks to help possibly depressed students by giving them donuts and teaching them to tap dance. The film follows the earnest women as they meet, date and intermingle with a host of doofus boys -- including Ryan Metcalf, Adam Brody and Billy Magnussen, who plays a frat boy named Thor who never learned how to properly identify colors -- while attempting to hold true to Violet's particularly ethereal perceptions of how best to help everyone. She mostly has the best of intentions, but when the boy she was dating suddenly falls for another of her suicide watch victims, she experiences a crisis of existential heartbreak herself.

The film is ripe with Stillman's signature wit and clever dialogue -- one of the young women suffers terribly from "nasal shock" when strong odors waft past her -- but it also travels further over-the-top than any of his more staid previous efforts. To witness, it concludes in a dancing musical number, replete with syncopated partnering and a dual water-soaked tap routine over a flowing school fountain. The effect is a bit peculiar -- like biting into an ├ęclair and finding it filled with caviar -- but not unwelcome. It's as if Whitman were channeling the late John Hughes, just with more whimsical literary allusions and a sturdy thesaurus.

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