After the over-praised flicks Metropolitan and Last Days of Disco, writer and director Whit Stillman has returned—14 years later—with Damsels in Distress. And his comeback speaks volumes as to why Stillman should stay away for good.
Using a recipe steeped in superficial self awareness, Stillman turns Damsels into a low-budget fiasco that feels as if Jared Hess took time out from Napoleon Dynamite and teamed up with a Jennifer’s Body-era Diablo Cody. In the hands of, say ,John Waters or Wes Anderson, this self aware flick might’ve played out better, but really no amount of genius could have kept this misguided crap out of the toilet tank.
Stillman tries to steer us through the inane plot surrounding a trio of girls (Greta Gerwig, Carrie MacLemore, Megalyn Echikunwoke) who want to remake Seven Oaks college and its male-oriented culture and in doing so enlighten their fellow female students. After initiating a new student (Analeigh Tipton) who questions their motives, they are off to save the campus from the evils of mundane living by running a suicide prevention center. Basically what we get are lowbrow, subversive, bland characters, moronic men and laconic, sharp-witted yet small-minded women.
Weird timing and expressionless monotonic delivery is the style employed here and it weighs the flick down, making the time spent sitting in the theatre all the more painful. The connection between the four girls makes no sense. There is no common thread. This is a world where body odor is an overblown drama, handsome is a problem and tap dancing is used as suicide prevention and depression therapy.
This sounds somewhat promising, but Damsels falters every step of the way. The script is merely a stage to showcase Stillman’s sardonic wit and use of language, which seems only to serve Stillman’s own amusement. This is a classic case of writing outweighing acting. Putting big smart words into a script about nothing does not make art or a good movie; rather it smacks of pretentiousness. Even though there are some funny lines amidst the pandering, I don’t get where Stillman is coming from at all.
We can blame the director for the poorly stylized acting. The actors come off horribly because the material thwarts them every time. The cast is dull with the exception of Tipton who shines with believability. However, just when Tipton’s character develops an arc she is dropped like a suicidal potato. And Gerwig’s acting is simply irritating.
This flick is intentionally the anti-Animal House, but that façade quickly dissipates into mundane gibberish. Too much moronic intellectualizing is just plain boring.
Every so often the release valve in my brain would let out a huge SO WHAT?! I haven’t wanted a movie to be over this much since I sat through Babies. I wanted to bolt every five minutes. And just when you think it can’t get worse, it turns into a damned musical.
Lars von Triers did a great job incorporating musical numbers into Dancer in the Dark, a dreary super depressing movie. Stillman, on the other hand, gives us a dreary movie with an ambiguous plot and meandering babble. Ending nonsensically with a dance number called “Sambola” (complete with subtitled directions), Damsels hurts and not in a good way.
I know this movie shouldn’t stimulate or conjure up such strong emotions. It certainly is not worth the aggravation, but I really hated this flick. There’s a campus newspaper in this flick called The Daily Complainer—where do I sign up?
Damsels in Distress
Starring Greta Gerwig, Carrie MacLemore, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Analeigh Tipton, Adam Brody, Directed by Whit Stillman