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Damsels in Distress – review

REVIEWED BY: Jack Jones

RELEASED: April 27

Intelligent, quick witted and caustic, Whit Stillman’s much-prolonged fourth feature Damsels In Distress looks set to divide audiences; it dances on an edge – whimsical fancy on the one side, irritatingly awkward on the other.

Set on the leafy grounds of an East Coast American College, a trio of undergrads  - led by Greta Gerwig’s social Band-aid trooper Violet – seek to halt the declining social standards of campus life by holding dance therapy sessions for depressed students.

At first this trio of girls seem like a younger version of the iconic triumvirates from Colin Higgins’ Nine to Five and Hugh Wilson’s The First Wives Club, until the introduction of a new member throws a the groups balance into flux. Damsels in Distress is a critique of youth’s exuberance, naivety, hubris and, ultimately, its innocence. But crucially Stillman – with his dry tone of social commentary – is never frivolous with the issue of campus suicide.

Stillman isn’t afraid to flex his own love for François Truffaut here. Awash with pastel colours and shot with a glossy style of cinematography, this feels ever less real and fanciful. After all, most of us see our university days through rose tinted glasses and romance about the days when we believed we could affect change. Stillman’s college-world view is perfectly shaped here.

Despite its self-conscious style and dialogue, Stillman isn’t afraid to laugh at himself and point out the stupidity of his characters. It’s fair to say that everyone has encountered, at some point, someone who is of high academic achievement but lacking in the even the most basic intelligence. Though frequently absurdist, Damsels often rings with the sound of truth.

Stillman has been open about how difficult it has been to finance his next project after The Last Days of Disco. What a shame that, given his prolonged absence, he hasn’t quite found a routine worthy of a new dance craze.

3 stars

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