Damsels in Distress Reviews
Gerwig plays a student at a small secluded liberal-arts college in the Northeast (inspired by Dartmouth maybe?). But it's not so much a character as a comic caricature blown up to absurd proportions. She and her two pals, who are even cruder caricatures, staff a Suicide Prevention Center and are obsessed with helping fellow students avoid depression.
There are many funny lines in this spoof of over-educated lost children, but it's just actors reading funny lines. No one for a second seems like a real person. It's more like a Saturday Night Live sketch than a film. This archly unrealistic approach could work if the satire is scintillating and brilliant. But it's never that good. It's just mildly funny throughout.
Also, for satire really to work, it has to resemble real life to a degree. These caricatures are so over the top that they don't resemble anyone. No college students are this screwed up. The film is not so much poking fun at real people as imagining absurd things. "Damsels" wanted to be satirical but often comes off surreal. Not because the humor was intentionally surrealistic, but because the attempts at satire kept misfiring. It hurts to say this, but I think Stillman's filmmaking career is over.
Violet(Greta Gerwig), Heather(Carrie MacLemore) and Rose(Megalyn Echikunwoke) recruit new student Lily(Analeigh Tipton) into their cause. Said cause being suicide prevention. Which they intend to do through donuts, coffee and tap dancing. When that does not work, there is always busting down doors which they do when they rescue Priss(Caitlin FitzGerald) who claims she was only glum. Otherwise, Lily is content with being the third wheel to Xavier(Hugo Becker) and Alice(Meredith Hagner).
With "Damsels in Distress," writer-director Whit Stillman manages to prove once and for all that he has his head jammed firmly up his backside with dialogue that no human being would ever say in the real world in his hard hitting expose of cliques on college campuses. Out of that there are maybe a couple of nice moments.("Did you stay at the Motel 6?" "No, I stayed at the Motel 4. It was cheaper.") Plus, the movie has a rather cavalier attiude towards mental illness. Well, since the spoken word had no chance, then maybe Stillman should have made a musical with this material which he hints at repeatedly until the musical number that finally arrives too little too late.
But his new film, while still operating in his same wheelhouse, won me over, for the most part. Still a formless, talky mess, DAMSELS has many things going for it. First, never underestimate Greta Gerwig. She's fast becoming an indie MVP, with her great turn in GREENBURG and now here playing your typical Stillman character - -articulate, preppy, and slightly aloof. There's no mistaking that she's channelling (intentionally or otherwise) Chloe Sevigny, who starred in Stillman's DISCO. Her Violet, however, is a unique creation and is charming because she's so open to criticism. The leader of a group of vocabulary-rich HEATHERS who welcome a rebellious naysayer into their college -life fold, Violet never quite reacts the way you think she will. When the newbie, played by CRAZY STUPID LOVE scene stealer Analeigh Tipton tells her she's rude, Violet responds that she thinks she's right instead of letting her claws out. It's a measured, unexpected performance, and one that kept me sitting forward throughout.
The girls run a Suicide Prevention Center, and it's hear where we see that well-intentioned yet misguided people can STILL do something good for others. It's a lovely conceit that perhaps tap dancing IS the best antidote to suicidal ideation.
Repetitiveness definitely sets in, although the cast remained committed and enjoyable throughout. Megalyn Echikunwoke as Rose (yes, the 4 leads are named after flowers - - so precious!), tended to annoy around the 60th time she called a man a "rat player", and Carrie MacLemore as Heather did the one-dimensional dim girl act as best she could. All of the male characters are underwritten and tend to border on the moronic, but this is a comedy of manners, not a comedy of body parts and fluids like most college-era films. Things turn disastrous in the final reel, when we're subjected to a full-on musical sequence and abrupt character co-minglings. And I REALLY could have done without the too-cutesy dance instructions during the end credits. Despite this, I got lost in its charms.
Others will definitely disagree. The Writers Guild screening I attended had more walkouts than I had ever seen. I just don't think they're used to hearing characters speak in complete sentences in movies. It's as if we're witnessing a modern day English Drawing Room Comedy without the corsets, tea, carriages, and Maggie Smith.
Its not as good as Metropolitan and The Last Days Of Disco but it takes place in the same universe as those two and its still good.
Great acting by Greta Gerwig and the other actors.
Worth a rental.