“Damsels In Distress”
Proves Old Is New
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
The 1937 musical “A Damsel in Distress” starred Fred Astaire and Joan Fontaine, with humor by George Burns and Gracie Allen. This is not that film.
This “Damsels in Distress” (original title: “Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress”) was, as you might suspect, written and directed by Whit Stillman.
Stillman is the upstart director known for his films about “urban haute bourgeoisie.” I’d call them comedies of manners. Best known among his trio of previous films is “Metropolitan,” which won him a 1991 Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Now after a 13-year hiatus we have “Damsels in Distress,” the story of three young damsels and a transfer student at an upscale East Coast college called Seven Oaks and the men they get entangled with.
Note that Stillman himself graduated from Harvard, where he wrote for the Harvard Crimson.
During New Student Orientation, the trio (played by Greta Gerwig, Megalyn Echikunwoke, and Carrie MacLemore) takes a new girl (Analeigh Tipton) under their wing in an effort to assault the male bastion that the school typifies.
One girl is the instigator, the other is strongly principled, and the third is sexy. Together, their goal is to rescue the new girl from “depression, grunge and low standards of every kind.”
The film is a bit of an anachronism, harking back to those innocent days when Andy Hardy went off to college. You’ll laugh all way through the Hollywood-musical-inspired end credits. Maybe.
One viewer described it as “self-conscious and out of touch.”
Another blogged, “It’s clear that some reviewers ‘got’ this film and some didn’t. As always, Stillman delivers with marvelous, laugh-out-loud funny dialogue.”
Associated with the mumblecore film movement, Greta Gerwig starred opposite Ben Stiller in “Greenberg” and Russell Brand in the “Arthur” remake. And you’ll recognize Analeigh Tipton from “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” The others are mostly known for their TV work.
Their characters named after flowers, the young actresses are allowed to blossom in “Damsels in Distress.” I’ll put the DVD on my shelf next to Spike Lee’s “School Daze,” another comedy about college mannerisms.