Review: Damsels in Distress (Stillman, 2011)

Still from the movie Damsels in Distress

My initial viewing of this film first interrupted by my plane landing, my re-watching was again interrupted by my husband returning home, so I’ve had a less-than-optimal experience of Damsels in Distress. Normally this would bother me to no end, but this movie didn’t seem to require continuous viewing.

I say that because in the beginning I could hardly stand watching it, it seemed so stylistically ridiculous. But then it grew on me, a little. I didn’t want to stop, in the way that it might be difficult to tear my eyes away from an extremely ugly dog.

The premise: A female transfer student (Lily, played by cat-eyed, arch-browed Analeigh Tipton) arrives at what appears to be a small Northeastern/Midwestern liberal arts college where she is met by three co-eds in flounced skirts/dresses and pastel cardigans. The girls, led by Violet (Greta Gerwig), take Lily in as a roommate and induct her into their campaign to save the morons of the Roman letter societies and to combat suicide and idiocy with soap and dance, particularly of the tapping variety. (You can see why I thought it was silly, can’t you?) A trio of love triangles ensue, and we find Violet herself degenerating (rather philosophically) into depression, though somehow she manages to maintain her doe-eyed optimism and will to dance and clean. (I wonder if Greta Gerwig must perpetually play innocent women. I’d be shocked and intrigued to see her in a dark role.)

The movie was good fun–even more so with the addition of Adam Brody as one point of one of the love triangles, though he acted rather “normally” compared to the rest of the cast, as if he’d somehow refrained from swallowing the pill that made everyone else talk and walk and look just that way. Well, it’s an odd film, director Whit Stillman‘s first since the late 90s. (Apparently he has a stylistic mark, perhaps as distinct as Wes Anderson‘s). You’ll either love Damsels in Distress, or hate it, or scratch your head and laugh, like me.