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May 4, 2012
08:18 AMTalk about Arts
Movie Review: Damsels in Distress
Films opening this weekend:
Avengers, The - Maple Ridge; Market Arcade, Flix Dipsons; Transit, Elmwood, Galleria, Quaker, Hollywood Regals
Damsels in Distress - Amherst Dipson
Elles - Eastern Hills Dipson
Leave it to Whit Stillman to ensure decadence never dies. The king of creating a haughty air onscreen during the 90s returns after a prolonged absence with Damsels in Distress, a film existing in the present but populated with a wealth of characters keeping one colloquial foot in the past.
Interjecting an outsider unfamiliar with the pretention cultivated by those she is joining—much like Tom into the auteur's debut feature Metropolitan's debutante gala season—we are allowed to see behind the curtain of a carefully calculated way of living on the campus of Seven Oaks. A transfer student simply looking for a change of scenery, young Lily (Analeigh Tipton) could never have been prepared for the time warp of arrogant idealism and upper class stupidity that awaited her in this highly stylized canvas of cliché and stereotype.
Singled out by the loquaciously hypocritical Violet (Greta Gerwig) and her snooty cronies Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and Heather (Carrie MacLemore), the new girl on campus is quickly exposed to the "hip" experts on undergraduate lifestyle. This pack of egomaniacal meddlers walks as though rulers of a kingdom too weak and in need of their assistance to revolt against the image projected upon them. Fraternities house oafish dullards who never had reason to learn the names of colors, all females with tears welled in their eyes are deemed suicide risks, and love becomes a game of power where courting those beneath you serves to both retain control and fulfill a need for charity work one's conscience may require.
Girls like Violet, Rose, and Heather speak as though gospel, molding the minds of all who cross their paths with vile rhetoric dripping from the hatred of centuries past that sadly were never deemed archaic by the parents who brought them into this world. It's a fine line Stillman must walk, then—doing his best to shed light on our inadequacies by juxtaposing a way of being we believe was left behind.
Lily reveals herself to be as bad or worse than those she struggles to reconcile her tenuous friendships with. A girl so self-absorbed in wanting to fit in, she will engage in abnormal sexual activities with smooth talking "playboys" and "operator-types" as well as defend those she herself takes umbrage with. Say what you will about Violet's superiority complex, at least she knows who she is and truly thinks she's helping those in need. Gerwig's sterile, untrusting, judge and jury is all a brilliant surface manifestation somehow keeping a small morsel of youthful empathy beneath.
Still unsure whether I fully bought the satire or rejected the premise as a tool for hate mongering without filter, I couldn't help finding myself laughing at a consistent clip. The "joke" wears itself thin halfway through, but the characters created never cease to entertain, especially Adam Brody as a conniving player with a heart of gold. His and the other male characters' distress counters the girls' damsels splendidly.
The women's liberation movement probably takes a huge step backwards with this one as a result, but it does make you laugh in the process. Hopefully the subject matter causes audiences to think about the way they act towards those they deem inferior and not accidentally validate their cruelty as a way of appropriate living. Stillman has either crafted a masterpiece to awaken our humanity or one more example of how equality still hasn't become—nor probably ever will—a reality.
Damsels in Distress 7/10 | ★ ★ ★
 Left to Right: Carrie MacLemore as Heather, Greta Gerwig as Violet and Megalyn Echikunwoke as Rose. Photo by Sabrina Lantos, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
 Left to Right: Greta Gerwig as Violet and Adam Brody as Fred/Charlie. Photo by Sabrina Lantos, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.