Goofy charm almost rescues these “Damsels”
Quirky doesn’t begin to describe “Damsels in Distress” a sometimes comedic, sometimes thought provoking but consistently odd look at college life from the perspective of a clique of female students. While a Jane Austen spirit updated by way of Napoleon Dynamite makes the film more than interesting, the film can’t quite muster enough wit or laughs to make it memorable. And even some musical numbers can’t overcome the film’s lack of structure which renders “Damsels in Distress” an admirable but ultimately unsatisfying treatise on coed relationships.
Greta Gerwig as Violet leads a pretty and talented cast of lesser known actors; she’s the center of a clique of females at small, fictitious Seven Oaks College in New England. Introspective and genuine she muses about the shortcomings of the dullard type men on campus and their need to be rescued from themselves. But, as she is quick to point out to new girl Lily (Analeigh Tipton) her motives are indisputably altruistic– thus her group’s involvement in a campus suicide prevention center whose primary form of therapy is… tap dancing.
There are some commendably interesting ideas at work here, and Violet’s sweetly smug band of acolytes, who often prattle on in lengthy platitudes, are rarely boring. Topics as diverse as the intoxicating smell of motel soap, color blindness, the plural of the word “doofus,” and the proper spelling of the work “jif” (as in “back in a..”) provide some sunny moments. Though seemingly set modern day, there’s an old fashioned, almost innocent oeuvre to the proceedings with the jarring exception of one type of “non-procreative” sex habit that is practiced by charmer Xavier (Hugo Becker) that leads to several awkward moments.
Director Whit Stillman (“Metropolitan,” “The Last Days of Disco”) has a seemingly endless stream of ideas going on in “Damsels in Distress” and should be applauded for a non-conformist film that marches to the sound of its own drum. It’s just not a beat everyone can dance to.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content including sexual material.