Iris invites her friend Jack to stay at her family's island getaway after the death of his brother. At their remote cabin, Jack's drunken encounter with Hannah, Iris' sister, kicks off a revealing stretch of days.
Violet and her two cohorts attempt to help their "less-fortunate" students at Seven Oaks College - primarily by running a Suicide Prevention Centre and offering their off-beat advice whenever they get a chance. Violet's newest rescue is transfer student, Lily, and Violet wants to teach her how to talk and dress properly, and how to select appropriate men to be interested in. Along their way in helping everybody at the college, the damsels teach the fraternity doofi to hit the books, they get their hearts broken, but then attempt to start an international dance craze. Written by
Damsels in Distress felt to me like antidote, though I have been puzzling over exactly what it's an antidote to, which is a particularly charming trait of the movie.
Violet is the instigator in a group of delicate and vague young ladies attempting to fashion some sort of social nest for themselves via means of a campus suicide prevention centre promoting good vibes. The film is rather curiously out of time and place, like a very long dream.
At the danger of romanticising the past (Violet is keen to point out this pitfall of a fallacy), I've met people who went to university in the sixties and seventies, who had plenty of free time for epiphanies, large grants, and who had companies fighting over them when they graduated. Now universities massively oversupply a demand for thinkers, and they can be scary places to be, because you don't know where work is coming from when the music stops.
Seven Oaks is a campus away from this, a verdant and etherised place without a trace of gadgetry and social media, with comically lowly or merely fanciful levels of ambition and only a fleeting hint of financial constraint (Violet does acknowledge that drinks are expensive). So it's an antidote in that way.
But also I think it suggests that people may want to be more understanding of one another, and that there are natural differences in personalities and perspective, and many ways to live, with La Grande Illusion, a poster of which appears several times being somewhat of a touchstone in this regard (the joke being that the gentleman who owns it is probably the most self-righteous person in the whole movie). Violet is arrogant, but only in the most charming way. Often the most normal, and identifiable characters in the movie turn out to be the most arrogant, because they patronise others in earnest, whereas I think Violet is doing it quixotically, as some sort of elaborate and kindly coping strategy. I find quite often that the most arrogant people in life are fond of calling others arrogant, and the most snobbish are fond of calling others snobs. I think that Whit Stilman enjoys turning received ideas on their head, very much in the manner of Oscar Wilde, "We should treat all trivial things very seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality".
One of the aspects I found funny and intriguing about the film was the spread of misinformation, for example Violet claims the wrong Strauss popularised the waltz, and also that an individual named Charleston invented the Charleston dance, in the middle of a tutorial, calmly and authoritatively. She goes further and claims that the attribution of the Charleston to the city is a common misconception, which it definitely is not! I think you can see from the number of "citation needed" tags on Wikipedia that there are a lot of people who enjoy making up information, the fiancé of a work colleague actually boasts about having deliberately put a lie on a Wikipedia page about a particular citrus fruit.
I adored the musical numbers that got put in at the end of the film (check out Tsai Ming-liang films if you're looking for more), and I think I found the whole movie delightful. I found a scene where the girls talked to one another in the dark prior to falling asleep particularly touching, it's a pleasure that I haven't experienced for over a decade.
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