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October 10, 2012

4

Damsels in Distress

by Franz Patrick


Damsels in Distress (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Lily (Analeigh Tipton), a transferring sophomore in Seven Oaks University, was approached by a trio of girls because they believed that Lily needed a sort of saving from herself. Violet (Greta Gerwig), Heather (Carrie MacLemore), and Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) were strong proponents of social work. In their eyes, “social work” meant finding people who were inferior to them and rescuing these so-called pathetic individuals. So strong were their convictions to help others, they ran a suicide prevention center on campus in which their most effective form of therapy involved tap dancing. Written and directed by Whit Stillman, “Damsels in Distress” was savagely funny, propelled by an unflinching dialogue that felt absurd yet satirical. The more we observed these characters, the funnier they became without even trying. My favorite specimen to take under a microscope was Violet, the leader of the quadruplet appropriately named as flowers–their appearances fiercely alluring and their actions, on the surface, seemed like the gentle helping hand of Mother Theresa. When Violet was calm, the sentences she uttered did not contain contractions. She spoke, essentially, like a robot which made listening to her somewhat of a trial because I didn’t know whether to laugh at her or succumb to her authority. When criticized, especially by Lily, instead of acting like an oak, breaking from her own insecurities, she bended like a reed, took the criticism for what it was and attempted to better herself in case she needed to give a similar seed of wisdom to someone else in the future. I enjoyed that Violet was a complex character, not just some mean girl who wore nice clothes but was truly ugly on the inside. Like the other girls, while she had the tendency to look down on others, the more we spent time with her, it became clearer that their group, as eccentric as they sounded at times, genuinely believed what they stood for. In its own twisted way, I found that to be the heart of the picture. Issues that surrounded them, like boy problems (Hugo Becker, Adam Brody, Ryan Metcalf), were often uncertain. What it came down to was the fact that these women were still willing hang out with each other, sometimes having not much of a choice since they were roommates, at the end of a bad day. Like Lily’s relationship with the other three, our relationship with all of them was, at best, sprinkled with reluctance. We all have friends who we consider “sort of” a friend. We hang out with them, we listen to their stories, and sometimes we even find ourselves unguarded in sharing personal information with them. And yet in the back of mind we just can’t help but not trust them completely because there’s something that feels off about them. As unbelievable as some of the events that transpired in the film, Stillman captured the essence of the fragility human relationships. I admired his boldness in experimenting with and subverting our expectations of campus comedy and foibles of friendship. However, it didn’t feel as though the picture had an ending that we nor the characters particularly deserved. Breaking into a musical number, while fun and energetic, felt like the writer-director shirking responsibility in giving us something worthwhile. But since everything prior to that point was handled with such vision and confidence, perhaps the filmmaker was making a statement. If indeed he was, too bad it went right over my head.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oct 10 2012

    Tap dancing can be quite effective as therapy, though, :D

    Reply
    • Oct 10 2012

      Never had to tap dance in my life! I have tried… by myself. But my feet just aren’t fast enough. Dancing, in general, just isn’t for me. Unless alcohol is involved. And it’s dark. Then MAYBE.

      Reply
  2. Sam Fragoso
    Oct 13 2012

    I’ve seen each Whit Stillman film … need to check this endeavor out. Thanks for the review Franz.

    Reply
    • Oct 15 2012

      Ahh, I’m the complete opposite. This is my first movie of his. I’ll start with “Metropolitan.” Any favorite?

      Reply

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