At Seven Oaks college, Violet Wister (Gerwig) is leading a personal crusade to rescue students from themselves, be their problems depression, grunge or just low standards of any kind, with tap. Spearheading a dynamic trio of the sweet Heather (MacLemore) and traditional “English” girl Rose (Echikunwoke), they take in freshman girl Lily (Tipton), considered lost, and date frat boys because it makes them feel good about themselves, to improve their lives, it’s men, however, that almost tears the group apart.
Imagine a Judd Apatow rom-com movie, well this is at the other end of the spectrum. Past Juno, past (500) Days Of Summer, Damsels In Distress almost sits alone in today’s cinema. It’s a pity therefore, that it doesn’t entirely work.
There are a lot of laughs if you can go along with it; as Variety proclaims, Damsels In Distress can be an “utter delight”, but I didn’t wholly buy in. The film entertaining and frustrating in equal measure as Whit Stillman’s latest feels too indie and doesn’t always work. Elsewhere it takes a much more stereotypical tone, throwing catchphrase after catchphrase at the screen. The mismatch disrupts the narrative and you’re left with a stop-start affair.
Much of the cast seem to take half the film to get in the mood. When they’re on form the dialogue is witty and incisive but Gerwig really struggles at the start, as does Echikunwoke. It’s lucky MacLemore and Tipton are there to keep things ticking along because Adam Brody’s role is a strange one too, though he improves as things are revealed about his character.
In line with the film’s hit and miss nature, Stillman has Violet trying to start a new dance sensation, The Sambola, miss, but Rose’s ongoing “operator” joke will have you in tears, hit. Damsels In Distress is a little too kooky for its own good, but still feels refreshing in a market where originality seems to have been trading in for just another sequel. It’s a while since anyone has made a film like this, and it’ll probably be longer until we get another, so even if Stillman isn’t your cup of tea, you should try to savour Damsels while it lasts. Thirteen years since his last film, it might be even longer until the next one gets off the ground.