Damsels in Distress is a terrifically twee couple of hours
Starring Greta Gerwig and Analeigh Tipton. Rating unavailable.
It’s been 14 years since Whit Stillman made his previous movie, The Last Days of Disco. But the passage of time hasn’t altered his snow-globe view of the world, which bears few signs of electronic networking, fast food, or visible means of support.
The verbose writer-director, who also made Barcelona and the more delicate Metropolitan, has been called the WASP Woody Allen. An even whiter Wes Anderson is more like it, and Stillman’s whimsically stylized people keep an even more artificial distance from events and attendant emotions.
Damsel in Distress’s plot revolves around an earnest new sophomore at fictional Seven Oaks College. The relatively normal Lily (Analeigh Tipton) fits right in with a botanical gaggle comprising cheery Heather (Carrie MacLemore), Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke), and alpha damsel Violet, played with deadpan fury by Greenberg’s delightfully awkward Greta Gerwig.
In her June Cleaver dresses, Violet lives to help others in self-serving ways. She’s the kind of well-read gal who asks Lily if a young man might approach her “with a view to marriage”—giving us an idea what would have happened if Henry James had lived into the sitcom era. The sexually squeamish director doesn’t include anything forbidden on noncable TV, except for cultural references Gossip Girl fans won’t get.
The distress here doesn’t go far beyond what comes from the smell of drunken frat boys, viewed as sub-Dubya morons deserving of pity and fresh bars of soap. Our floral foursome also sets out to save suicidal students through the careful application of doughnuts and Fred Astaire dance routines—a sensible approach, except that many viewers will tire of the twee before their dunking is done. Still, escaping to a nicer world—even one with a Lucite finish and a bad, ’80s-type soundtrack—can make this one more pleasant for a couple of hours.
Watch the trailer for Damsels in Distress.