Damsels in Distress – Tyneside Cinema.
Whit Stillman has returned. After a thirteen year hiatus, the writer/director brings us Damsels in Distress, a campus comedy bursting with whimsy and razor sharp dialogue.
Meet the Damsels, a trio of girls on a mission to rescue the students of Seven Oaks College from depression and suicide. For these bouts of depression – which usually amount to nothing more than post breakup blues –the damsels are quick at hand with free doughnuts and tap dancing lessons.
The self righteous but ultimately softheaded damsels spot new girl Lily (Analeigh Tipton) and immediately take her under their wing, protecting her from the highest cause of depression on campus – men.
My initial fear as the film began was that it would amount to nothing more than an ‘indie’ Mean Girls. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead the film is split up into titled chapters about the girl’s own romantic entanglements and threatened sanity.
Early on we are introduced to the snobbish but well-meaning leader Violet (Greta Gerwig) who truly steals the show. Gerwig’s performance as the well spoken Damsel has to be one the most whimsical and kooky female characters I’ve seen this year. Scenes where Violet passes on her utterly daft words of wisdom with such serious conviction are some of the funniest moments of the film. Among other things, she is a woman who firmly believes that dating a man less attractive, intelligent and popular than herself is necessary in order to help him realise his full potential. In Violet’s own words, her boyfriend Frank is a “sad-sack really, wouldn’t you say?” What’s great about her character is that she never becomes unlikable or overbearing. She is well meaning and innocent with everything she preaches – and actually welcomes her ideas to be challenged. She is a glutton for punishment, which basically forms the single plot line the film follows.
It’s a shame the other Damsels aren’t given as much development as Violet. The judgemental Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and the innocent Heather (Carrie MacLemore) are given little time to develop against the comedic force of Violet. Given more screen time I think the three women could have been one of the funniest female trios in recent cinema. As it is, the film felt more like the singular Damsel in distress than the plural Damsels.
The unconventional structure of the film won’t be to everyone’s tastes and some may find the lack of overarching story and direction frustrating, but for me this formed part of the film’s charm. It’s a thoroughly entertaining ride which features some of the best female comedic performances this year.
Damsels in Distress opens today at the Tyneside Cinema. For details, see: www.tynesidecinema.co.uk