“I don’t really like the word ‘depressed’. I prefer to say that I’m in a tailspin”. So says Violet (Greta Gerwig) the main damsel in Whit Stillman’s latest offering about the musings of the young as they search for a place in the world.
Violet is the head of the suicide prevention centre and best friends with Heather (Carrie MacLemore) and Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) who together come across Lily (Analeigh Tipton) and make it their aim to help her as she navigates her way through college. They believe strongly in the betterment of students through improved hygiene and the healing effects of tap dance. Violet is keen to start her own dance craze along the lines of the Charleston and makes it her goal to seek out unimpressive men bordering on the mentally challenged with the aim of making them realise their full potential.
You would be hard pressed to find a more dry-witted comedy than Damsels at the moment, or in the past few years for that matter. Stillman who also wrote the piece is a master at producing fantastic one-liners that you just know will by quoted by a legion of devoted fans:
Depressed Debbie: “You think I’m going to kill myself and make you look bad?”
Violet: “I’m worried that you’ll kill yourself and make yourself look bad.”
Most of the film revolves around the four girls and their varying philosophies on men, society and the perils of suicide. Lily is the most conventionally normal of the four and represents the audience. Like Lily we have been thrown into a seemingly insane nether world where these college girls behave like women in their thirties from the forties. Their fashion sense is immaculate and very “American apple pie baking suburbia”. They despise vile odours and Violet sets out upon a quest to find the perfect scent that she feels exist to banish all ill feelings.
Lily constantly questions and points out the lunacy of their beliefs but while the film progresses you can’t help but side with the others, finding their ways charming and endearing. The film is certainly an exaggerated satire on American society with the idiotic fraternities, righteous newspaper editors and beyond weird outcasts. The frat boys Frank (Ryan Metcalf) and Thor, yes Thor, (Billy Magnussen) are hilarious in their varying degrees of stupidity and Freak Astaire (Nick Blaemire) is fantastic as the obsessed tap dancer. It is these little side characters peppering the film that make it so enjoyable.
Without question the film will divide audiences. I fear you will either love or hate it with little middle ground because you have to embrace Stillman’s world fully or just see it as some bloated navel gazing nonsense regarding stuffy college girls. I was definitely in the first camp and will be returning to Damsels many times in the future to catch all those one liners that whizzed by.
USA / Directed By: Whit Stillman / Written By: Whit Stillman / Starring: Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton, Ryan Metcalf / 99min / Action, Crime, Thriller / Release: 6 April 2012 (US/Canada), 27 April 2012 (Irl/UK)
PLEASE NOTE: Damsels in Distress was also reviewed by Mick McGovern when it screened at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012. You can read his review here.