Dir: Whit Stillman
Stars: Greta Gerwig, Analeigh Tipton, Carrie MacLemore & Megalyn Echikunwoke
We’ve had to wait 13 years, but finally Whit Stillman is back. Damsels in Distress follows on in a similar vein from where he left off with Last Days of Disco and Barcelona. Stillman seems intrigued by sexual politics, tackling it again from unusual and unexpected angles. Whilst technically not a “period piece”, Damsels in Distress is clearly firmly grounded in the ‘50s; even though it is set in the modern day.
When Lily (Tipton) transfers to Seven Oaks College she is adopted by a trio of girls lead by the dynamic Violet Wister (Gerwig). Along with Heather (MacLemore) and Rose (Echikunwoke), they have set themselves the task of nurturing the potential of the unpromising male students, whilst also tackling the issue of student depression through a combination of good hygiene and musical dance numbers. However, their “good deeds” threaten to tear the group apart, leading to the questioning of their good intentions and tackling their own demons.
Stillman’s films tend to all share a similar offbeat style, and you’re unlikely to see anything vaguely reminiscent to Damsels in Distress this year. His reminds me of an anti-Wes Anderson; dealing with similar subjects and themes but from a completely different starting point and different ethos. The reason this works so well is that the female protagonists feed so well off each other, revolving around Violet at the centre. The male characters act as devices for them to vibe off; The amazing Thor and his colour confusion, the dopey frat-boy Rick and Xavier (Zavier) the “pain in the arse”. The only male character who has any equality with his female peers is Fred, but he provides the main test to the girls’ friendship.
Whilst Damsels in Distress may be based on real life events, the mind of Whit Stillman adds so many obscure elements. It has aptly been described as “Jane Austen does Animal House”, and its refreshing to see a female take on the college comedy. Violets obsession with starting an international dance craze is laudable; I’m sure, in years to come, we will all be spending our Saturday nights dancing the Sambola. One can only hope.
On release at the Showroom Cinema now http://www.showroomworkstation.org.uk/damselsindistress