Damsels In Distress (2011): You Think You Had Problems...

There are so many important life lessons these girls want to teach you.

I’d heard many a great thing about Damsels in Distress, which is why I spent the first ten minutes of the film confused and irritated. The confusion was down to the narrative style; namely that there isn't one. I’m trying to (and struggling) to think of another film that so abruptly dropped the viewer into the world of its characters. The irritation, I’ll admit, was more my own fault; down to a self-imposed and needless resolution to finish films I begin to watch, and books I start to read, no matter how torturous I find the experience. Thank God for my absurd OCD is all I can say. 

This campus comedy takes place at Seven Oaks, a branch-off of an ambiguous Ivy League College, and the playground for self-righteous Violet and her cohort of equally narcissistic followers; Rose and Heather. The opening minutes of the film see the ladies adopt campus newcomer Lily, taking her under their bizarre wings. The girls head up a Suicide Prevention Centre, from which they promote the importance of dance (with a preference for tap) and good hygiene in combating the signs of what Violet likes to call a life “tail-spin”.

By the time the film reached roughly the 20 minute mark, I had comfortably slipped into what I feel the film was really about: the rhetoric. At the beginning my mind was so busy trying to get over the fact that director Whit Stillman doesn't allow you ANY time to settle into the narrative that I probably missed a lot of blindingly cutting and witty dialogue. But by the time Aubrey Plaza makes it onto the screen, a reluctant member of the suicide-combating tap ensemble, and demands, “Do you have any idea how demoralising it is to be constantly questioned about whether you’re suicidal or not!” I was hanging on to every character’s words, and it was the gift that just kept on giving.

As multiple-character love interest Fred (Adam Brody)explains to Violet on the topic of his final paper “The Decline of Decadence”, when it comes to modern homosexuality he “just doesn't see the point”. Or one of the frat boys brilliantly named Thor, on being ridiculed for not knowing his colours and asked if it bothers him, “No. Why should it? That's why the 'rents are paying big bucks to send me here-- you know, to learn stuff...I'm happy to admit I'm completely ignorant. That's why I'm here and plan to really hit the books. So, the next time you see me, I'll know more than I do now. I'll be older, but also wiser--or at least know more stuff. For me, that's education.” 

To fully appreciate the genius of the script you need to watch the film, see it being performed by the aptly cast characters. No-one felt amiss, from the morons who make up the fraternities, to the members of the Suicide Prevention Class, everyone fits into their roles almost worryingly well. But the stand-outs for me were Megalyn Echikunwoke as Rose; “She’s a rat, a bitch- a rat-bitch” and the amazing Greta Gerwig as Violet. I can see myself fan-girling pretty hard for her in the future. 

So go watch Damsels in Distress, and please don’t turn it off half way through. Allow the movie to work its magic and draw you in. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed. And if for some reason you finish the film feeling like that’s an hour and a half of your life you’re never going to get back, please let me know. And then I’ll tell you why you’re wrong, because as Violet teaches, “we’re all flawed, but must that render us mute to the flaws of others?”

Illustration by Tamara-Jade Kaz