Damsels In Distress: nurse, the Chardonnay!

Damsels In Distress, a comedy about a well-intentioned but not necessarily terribly effective group of female students attempting to reform attitudes at a male-dominated US college campus, sounds from its title and description like it might be a bit of a chick-flick, and it’s certainly a film would benefit from being watched with a group of friends (preferably with a bottle or two of wine on hand) but Sex And The City-style slick product it is definitely not. It’s written, directed and produced by Whit Stillman, who has a distinctive approach to character and dialogue that stays just about on the right side of quirky, though I confess it took me twenty minutes or so to adjust to the unusual tone of the thing – I was half expecting the artless philanthropy of the lead characters to be cruelly subverted at any moment, and the unrealistic naivete, idealism or downright stupidity of most of the people on display is initially quite jarring. Once you relax into it though it’s pretty good fun, with jokes about tap-dancing classes at a Suicide Prevention Centre and the redemptive powers of cheap motel soap played surprisingly straight and a lot of the normally obligatory frat-boy gross-out humour of this kind of comedy gratifyingly absent. Greta Gerwig’s saintly but slightly otherworldly Violet starts out as the lead character, but as the film progresses we gradually get to see events more from the point of view of the much more grounded Lilly (Analeigh Tipton), with the two other florally-named girls Rose and Heather mainly there to provide running gags. The plot moves along briskly, boyfriends become unreliable, secrets get exposed, everyone is redeemed without getting hurt too much and the film wraps up in ninety minutes with some pleasingly non-professional dance routines. This is hardly a classic, but I’m sure it will be providing folks with perfectly fair Friday night entertainment when it comes out on DVD.

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