out of Five
Running time: 99
Superbly written and brilliantly acted, this is a delightfully quirky, frequently funny comedy from Whit Stillman that plays like a parody of his earlier films filtered through high school clique movies like Mean Girls and Heathers.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Whit Stillman (returning from a 13 year absence after 1998's Last Days of Disco), Damsels in Distress stars Analeigh Tipton as Seven Oaks college student Lily, who hasn't been on campus more than thirty seconds before she's co-opted into an idealistic, super-pretentious clique that includes queen bee Violet (Greta Gerwig), British-accented Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and sweet-natured Heather (Carrie Maclemore). The girls dedicate themselves to running the college Suicide Prevention Centre, dishing out the unlikely therapies of tap-dancing and free doughnuts (but only if you can prove you're clinically depressed).
The plot, such as it is, centres around the usually upbeat Violet getting depressed after catching her gloriously moronic boyfriend Frank (Ryan Metcalf) with newly inducted clique member Priss (Caitlin Fitzgerald). Meanwhile, Lily agonises over her attraction to attached French graduate student Tom (Hugo Becker) and enters into passive-agressive competition with Violet for the attentions of fraudulent literature student Charlie (Adam Brody).
The ever-delightful Greta Gerwig (do more films please, Greta Gerwig) is perfectly cast as Violet and her quirky rhythms and offbeat personality are ideally suited to Stillman's drily arch, borderline absurd dialogue. Tipton is equally good as the more grounded Lily and there's terrific support from Megalyn Echikunwoke (who turns the phrase “playboy operatOR type” into a hilarious running gag), while Adam Brody displays hitherto unsuspected singing and dancing skills when he and Gerwig perform Gershwin’s Things Are Looking Up (from the title-referencing Fred Astaire movie, A Damsel in Distress) in the film's delightful climactic sequence.
The script is packed with deliciously quotable lines and Stillman orchestrates some brilliantly funny scenes that pay off in unexpected ways, such as the hilarious resolution to one character struggling to learn the colours of the rainbow or Violet deciding that she wants to start an international dance craze called the Sambola.
It is fair to say that Damsels in Distress won't work for everyone (and indeed, the London Film Festival Surprise Film screening was extremely divisive), but if you're a fan of either Greta Gerwig, Stillman's previous films or tap-dancing, you will love it. Highly recommended.
Damsels in Distress (12A)