“There’s no logic to the algebra of love,” says one of the female characters in Damsels in Distress, an extremely dry and self-aware indie romantic comedy by director/writer Whit Stillman (The Last Days of Disco). The line is an example of the satirical and nonsensical dialogue aimed at exploring the pretentious nature of the new generation of overly quirky college students. At times, Stillman’s smart-alecky script makes you almost believe that what the characters are saying in this odd film makes complete sense. Mostly, however, Damsels in Distress, like its cast of female talent, never realizes its full potential.
The film stars indie darling Greta Gerwig (Hannah Takes the Stairs, Greenberg) as Violet, the leader of a college clique of progressive young women who take it upon themselves to help fellow coeds realize they don’t know much about the opposite sex or life in general. Volunteers at the campus Suicide Prevention Center, Violet, along with her cohorts Heather (Carrie MacLemore), Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke), and new recruit Lily (Analeigh Tipton), maneuver their way across the social landscape to demonstrate how much more intelligent they are in comparison to the sea of inferior (and stinky) men in their midst.
It’s hilarious to think these girls really are helping the world in their own peculiar way, which is why Stillman’s screenplay is the type of writing that is both unique and aggravating. These are the type of neurotic girls most neurotic boys would love to hang around. The problem is, none of them are based in anything that could be described as realism. They are cute, bourgey caricatures and nothing more. There is a false sense of depth to them that may only be transparent to those who do not fall for their girlish charms.
It’s unfortunate since Stillman, who returns to filmmaking after a more than a decade, has a very specific and uncommon voice in the industry. Most film directors simply don’t have the backbone to make these types of movies (someone like filmmaker Todd Solondz would be an exception). Still, as happy-go-lucky as a story like this can be, it can also cross that fine line into annoyance. Damsels in Distress fits in well with Stillman’s other “comedies of mannerlessness” from the 90s (Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco), but unless you fully commit yourself to this small army of arrogant personalities, it won’t be much fun even as a curiosity piece.
Damsels in Distress opens in San Antonio Friday, May 4 at the Santikos Bijou and Regal Fiesta.
??½ (out of 5 stars)
Damsels in Distress