Damsels in Distress

Greta Gerwig in Damsels in Distress

These are dark times for movie comedy. In the past year, I’ve only seen three good comedies: the Irish film, The Guard, and two British comedies, West is West and The Trip. (I am speaking, of course, of films that are intentionally funny. Melancholia doesn’t count.) I mostly enjoyed Super, but I didn’t like the ending. And I found parts of The Cabin in the Woods funny, but that is primarily a horror film. Needless to say, I won’t go to any piece of crap with Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell in it. (Although I did like Ferrell in the drama, Everything Must Go.)

Into this wasteland comes Whit Stillman’s latest comedy like a gentle spring rain. Damsels in Distress is set in Seven Oaks University, an academically undemanding institution whose student body largely consists of clueless frat boys and suicidally depressed misfits. Three female students take it upon themselves to help their fellow students and to lift the standards of this dreadful place. They are: the moody and philosophical Violet (Greta Gerwig), the sharp-tongued and hyper-critical Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and the idealistic Heather (Carrie MacLemore). They persuade the university to allow them to establish a Suicide Prevention Center, where they lure in chronically depressed students by offering them free doughnuts and then try to cheer them up by teaching them tap-dancing. They recruit a new student, Lily (Analeigh Tipton), to help them.

Violet advocates that women should go out with men who are inferior to them in order to elevate the latter. According to her, a woman should go out with a man “who doesn’t live up to his potential” or who “doesn’t even have much”. Acting upon this idea, these women go through a series of truly atrocious boyfriends, including two dim-witted frat boys, Frank and Thor (Ryan Metcalf and Billy Magnussen), a would-be intellectual with strange religious beliefs, Xavier (Hugo Becker), and a disingenuous operator, Charlie (Adam Brody).

Although much of the humor is dark, Damsels in Distress nonetheless has a sweet goofiness about it. In that sense, it harkens back to classic 1930’s comedies such as Million Dollar Legs and International House.

Damsels in Distress is a delicious treat.

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