Film Review: Damsels in Distress

Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress is a treat. The film is frequently amusing as it satirises the American college movie.

When Lily begins to study at the Seven Oaks college campus, she is welcomed by Violet, Rose and Heather. The three girls see it as their mission to rescue their fellow students from low standards. In the male-dominated campus, Violet, Rose and Heather have their work cut for them…

The humour of Damsels in Distress will not appeal universally.  The film is off beat, and the comedy matches this. Some will find the repetitive phrases amusing, for example, while others will consider them tiresome. The interactions between the main and supporting characters are well written, and generate several laughs.

Based around a new member entertaining an existing group of friends, Damsels in Distress functions in a similar way to the type of film it satirises. Damsels features the stock characters of a college-set film, with the addition of Violet. She acts in a narrator type role, offering judgements on the other characters. These serve to highlight her own peculiarities.

There are definite parallels between Damsels in Distress and Mean Girls. Violet fulfils the Regina George role, albeit with less viciousness. Violet and Lily in particular excel past these stereotypes into well-developed characters. Damsels in Distress ponders on the social structure of the American college, but ultimately plumps for fun and quirk rather than a definitive statement. Stillman’s film is also reminiscent of Heathers in that it is focused on social hierarchy and teen preoccupations with a dose of humour and satire.

Greta Gerwig is great as Violet. Gerwig really embodies the quirks of the character. Analeigh Tipton is also good as Lily, while Adam Brody brings his accustomed charm to the character of Charlie. Ryan Metcalf stands out as Frank, among the supporting roles.

Damsels in Distress is well written, well directed, and frequently funny. The dance craze tangent of the film is joyous.