Stillman’s back after a dozen years in the wilderness, this time with a strange, film-out-of-time look at College, cliques and the goings on of young neurotics.
DAMSELS sinks or swims if you buy into its world, and for me the film worked its charms from early on. Greta Gerwig is pitch perfect as Violet, the leader of a strange pack that seek to improve the lives of those women around them by both lowering expectations and setting the bar lower so that they feel empowered. As leader of the suicide prevention club, they mix tap dancing and donut give aways in an attempt to cheerfully whisk any negative thoughts away.
There’s an almost Lynchian way in which these characters grit their teeth and smile, strolling the sun-drenched quad in throwback outfits that evoke the 50’s. Yet instead of a sense of dread or malice under the smiles, there’s instead the everyday, common drive to get through this period of late adolescence with some sense of sunniness intact. Heck, even an anal sex cult becomes, under the umbrella of this film, ripe for both pathos and warm amusement.
There’s loads of times the film could easily have been derailed, but down to the final musical sequence, there’s an infectious quality to the whole proceedings that’s reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film. Violet’s transition is both touching and very, very silly, and this mix of the superficial, banal elements with cleverly drawn, rich characters makes for an interesting blend.
DAMSELS IN DISTRESS works in much the same way as HEATHERS does, on one level a silly little film, on the other something both provocative and almost precocious. Stillman has returned with a lovely little film, one that hopefully will find its audience among a slew of significantly lesser college-age narratives.