Review: Damsels in Distress (2011)

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Directed by: Whit Stillman
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton

I’ll preface this review with a general statement referring to my unfamiliarity with Whit Stillman. He’s a singular filmmaker, no doubt, but his latest is so questionably out there that I had no idea what to initially think of it. Damsels in Distress, needless to say, is a unique effort, however the level of uniqueness it achieves isn’t what most would gravitate toward despite a deluge of amiably dry, gender specific philosophical ramblings and questionable performances.

Functioning as a sort of backwards, pseudo-intellectually deadpan version of Mean Girls, Damsels focuses on a small clique of disillusioned college girls whose warped perception of college life and reality quickly infects their newest addition, Lily (Analeigh Tipton). It’s interesting at first to listen to and watch these girls firmly embrace their principles, supporting fraternity houses for the sake of courting archetypal jock-type lunkheads as an assumed type of charity and so forth. The girls, as can be assumed, are revealed to be particularly loathsome as each situation unfolds, leaving only Lily’s long-time friend Xavier and his girlfriend as the sole voices of reason amidst a sea of constant bullshit.

Even as the girls are berated by the editor of a low-key college publication, nothing changes for the better as somewhat effective jabs at humor permeate the proceedings at irregular intervals. When Violet (Greta Gerwig) walks in on her “boyfriend” cheating on her with a former suicide risk, you’d think things would take a turn upward as her character inevitably tries to better herself for the sake of her floundering social standing. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen. Violet instead runs away to a local motel, sniffing soap as a coping mechanism that comes off as more nauseatingly quirky than fun or even innovative.

These quirks come and go as artistic integrity is often mistaken for plain silliness (i.e. using tap dancing as a means to battle suicidal thoughts), and the subtle twists that pop up throughout the narrative, particularly Adam Brody’s arc as “smooth, operator playboy-type” Charlie/Fred aren’t as welcome as they should be. Brody’s character is in fact the most appealing part of Damsels, as is Tipton’s Lily as the naysayer who has the guts to point out each of her newfound girlfriends’ faults to a noticeable degree. Remaining awkwardly and inadvertently misogynistic despite the girls’ focus on reversing the male dominance “plaguing” their college campus, Damsels in Distress rarely shines as ineffectual wit, irritating characters and a tornado of mundane occurrences run rampant throughout nearly an hour and forty minutes that feel like an eternity.

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2 comments on “Review: Damsels in Distress (2011)

  1. The LB Tip says:

    Another great review… as it went into the detail I was looking for. I’m not that versed in Whit’s films either, only having seen THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, which I dug. It takes a while to accept that he’s on a whole different wavelength, so I may suck it up and actually watch this (during my most awake part of the day). Have to see if it’s really that big a mess.

    • afilmodyssey says:

      Thanks for the kind words and the read! I’ll venture to say that this probably wasn’t the best of his to start with, but I’ll be sure to check out The Last Days of Disco and Metropolitan to see if they fare any better.

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