Damsels in Distress 

A stylized comedy set on a fictional college campus may charm or annoy


In Whit Stillman's new comedy of manners, a quartet of prim and proper young women set their sights on making the Seven Oaks college campus a more refined place. Led by queen bee Violet (Greta Gerwig), the girls run a suicide-prevention club (dispensing bromides and donuts); date vulgar, stupid frat boys as a corrective "mission"; and fret, in very civilized tones, about the modern state of things. (Violet also dreams of starting an international dance craze, while directing the clinically depressed into a tap-dancing musical.)

I predict Damsels will be polarizing, dividing into camps of those who find its arch tale of campus life boring and meaningless, and those who see through the intentional caricature and stylized drollery to enjoy the filmmaker's critique. I'm straddling these camps, conscious of film's technique and themes, but not finding the package particularly entertaining or meaningful.

It's been more than a decade since Stillman's previous film, 1998's The Last Days of Disco, and double that for his 1990 debut Metropolitan. I mention that because something about Damsels' too-clever-by-half vibe felt passé. The film is very dialogue-heavy, and then these "conversations" are more apt to be lectures or commentary. The film also has intertitles, a musical number and "footnotes," though they are more correctly "endnotes." I found it all rather tedious, but you may be more refined than me.


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