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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
Could it be another acquired taste I have not yet fully acquired?
Violet Wister (Greta Gerwig), Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke), Heather (Carrie MacLemore), and Lily (Analeigh Tipton) have many things in common; they all talk with a smug tone and they attend the liberal arts school Seven Oaks, which seems to exist in its own little world. To be frank, it seems that Damsels in Distress has erected a world all its own, where pop culture doesn't exist and neither do Televisions, automobiles, or anything along the lines of utilities that we've become accustomed to today.
I love films that exist in the screenwriter's head. One of the more recent examples is Wes Anderson's majestic and enthusiastic Moonrise Kingdom, a film that appeared to have its own mindset and, within in it, its own set of characters, laws, rules, and agenda that it wanted to accomplish. Damsels in Distress isn't quite as majestic and enthusiastic. It's rather monotone, uninteresting, and groggy for the most part. What a shame since this is director Whit Stillman's return to film after a thirteen year hiatus.
The storyline concerns those four girls as they go about their lives at this preppy Ivy League school. One of the first things they do, after recruiting Lily, is recreate the school's "suicide prevention center" where they will use aroma therapy, donuts, and coffee in order to reassure students about their place in the world. Why? In the meantime, the girls began to get entangled romantically with men, from the sophisticated Charles (Adam Brody) to the absolute hunk Xavier (also called, "Zavier," played by Hugo Becker). These relationships seem innocuous but prove to be possibly lethal to the girl's unbreakable bond together and this is what, sort of, gets the film on its feet.
Damsels in Distress seems like a satire lost at sea. It's satirizing, or attempting to, Ivy League life and the strange quirks it possesses. The problem is it never fully gets a grip and forms an agenda on what it wants to parody. We get shells of characters who feel robotic and cold, only capable of saying a funny line but incapable of brewing characterization. The satirical element isn't that witty and neither is much of the film. This is more down the line of surrealism than satire.
Stillman greatly reminds me of the quirk-expert I explored earlier this past summer and the man I just mentioned not too long ago; Wes Anderson. Stillman seems to be completely capable of setting up a beautiful long shot, focusing on characters, and intimately capturing life's wonderful eccentricities. But he struggles in the same field Anderson struggled in with his two features, Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, respectively; he focuses so much on look and subtle beauty that he successfully undermines the storyline and the characters within it. Damsels in Distress concludes with a random song-and-dance number almost cementing the fact that there was no conceivable way to completely end this sort of story. It's choppy and inconsistent. But it all looks pretty.
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Carrie MacLemore, Hugo Becker, and Ryan Metcalf. Directed by: Whit Stillman.
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