Friday, October 26, 2012
DAMSELS IN DISTRESS (2012)
Based on his first three films and the characters he wrote for each, you can easily surmise that Whit Stillman is an odd, though articulate, duck. His latest writing and directing effort will do nothing to dissuade you. The film opens with the arrival of Lily (Analeigh Tipton) at Seven Oaks College. She is taken under the wing of Violet (Greta Gerwig), the leader of a clique of girls that includes Heather (Carrie MacLemore) and Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke). The clique’s primary mission seems to be running a campus suicide prevention center and providing cultural enlightenment to the buffoonish fraternity boys they date out of pity. But Lily has an unrequited crush on a longtime friend, the intellectual Xavier (Hugo Becker), and ignores the clique’s dating philosophy. While helping Priss (Caitlin Fitzgerald) recover from a broken heart, Violet inadvertently leads the girl into the arms of her own thickheaded beau Frank (Ryan Metcalf), which causes the usually upbeat Violet to fall into what she calls a tailspin (she doesn’t like the word depressed). After spending the night in a nearby motel she discovers the therapeutic power of its bar soap and returns to campus with renewed purpose. Meanwhile, Xavier turns to Lily for non-platonic comfort after his live-in girlfriend leaves him. Oh, yes, and Violet is determined to invent a new dance craze called the Sambola. Stillman’s script is episodic to the point of distraction, and those hoping for narrative discipline will be disappointed. Yet he has found a perfect muse in Gerwig, who gives Violet’s whimsical goals more substance than they deserve. Every moment she’s on screen, you’re happy to be in her company. Tipton has the film’s straight role and holds her own opposite Gerwig. The remainder of the cast, however, is a mixed bag, with the exception of Echikunwoke, who acts like she wandered in from a different movie and refused to leave. Stillman’s characters feel like they belong in a bygone era, and that conceit worked for his earlier films like METROPOLITAN and the superlative BARCELONA. Here they are an anachronism in search of a good home.