Damsels in Distress (2011)


(director/writer: Whit Stillman; cinematographer: Doug Emmett; editor: Andrew Hafitz; music: Mark Suozzo/Adam Schlesinger; cast: Greta Gerwig (Violet), Adam Brody (Fred Packenstacker/Charlie Walker), Analeigh Tipton (Lily), Megalyn Echikunwoke (Rose), Carrie MacLemore (Heather), Ryan Metcalf (Frank), Hugo Becker (Xavier), Zach Woods (Rick DeWolfe), Nick Blaemire(Freak Astaire), Jermaine Crawford (Jimbo); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Whit Stillman/Martin Shafer/Liz Glotzer; Sony Pictures Classics; 2011)

A mannered comedy that’s an acquired taste.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Whit Stillman (“Metropolitan”/”The Last Days of Disco”/”Barcelona”)directs this unique deadpan highbrow comedy about campus life. It’s a mannered comedy that’s an acquired taste, one that failed to knock me off my feet but nevertheless despite its flatness and smugness seemed fresh. It’s Stillman’s first film in 14 years.

Violet (Greta Gerwig) is the dynamic, clean-living and well-spoken ringleader of a trio of East Coast coeds at a fictitious American college, who are self-proclaimed missionary-like activists running on campus a Suicidal Prevention Center (treating depression with tap dancing), promoting good hygiene and dance as a cure-all for everything. The group have Christian names after flowers and use their eloquent speech to hide their own faults. The members in Violet’s group are the principled British accented Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and the attractive Heather (Carrie MacLemore). They welcome transfer student Lily (Analeigh Tipton) into their group, and the four girls fight for their causes and get entangled with an assortment of men on campus–the distress part of the title. Violet’s life ambition is to start a dance craze. She also opposes the conceited editor (Zach Woods) of the student newspaper, The Daily Complainer, by opposing his stance against the college’s “Roman letter” fraternity system because they are an exclusive group–reasoning that the frats cannot be accused of elitism because their members are “morons,”

The film climaxes with a big dance number dedicated to Fred Astaire’s “Things are Looking Up,” which is followed by a dance lesson in the Sambola–the next dance craze.

I found it more kooky than funny and too awkwardly dull at times to keep alert when the disjointed plot dragged, but Greta Gerwig’s enticing performance keeps things hopping and leading us on past all the lies the characters get bogged down in when deluding themselves as self-sacrificing altruists even when exposed to the truth.