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May 7, 2012 | by  | in Arts Film |
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Review – Damsels In Distress

It’s about time that Whit Stillman, Crown Prince of Urbane Hyperliterate American Youth, released another film. His last, The Last Days of Disco, was a witty and often stunningly emotional look at the life of two young women in the early 1980s. But it was released in 1998. It seemed as if Stillman had simply disappeared, breaking the hearts of high-brow twenty-something literati across the United States.

Praise be, then, that the man is back with Damsels in Distress, a series of vignettes about a group of girls working to reform the distinctly un-classy Seven Oaks College, a university marked by the “atmosphere of male barbarism” that the titular ‘Damsels’ work to change through tap-dancing and strategic dating.

Damsels is substantially lighter than Stillman’s work before his departure, but that’s not to say he’s lost his touch. Stillman’s work maintains its characteristic high barriers to entry—his characters are still largely hyperliterate, socially-mobile young people who disguise their flaws with facades of worth and distinction; their dialogue remains idiosyncratic, thick with literary references, allusions to pop culture and excessive rationalisation of basic human emotion. The trio of women who make up the ‘Damsels’—assertive, arrogant (but self-aware) head honcho Violet (Greta Gerwig); refined, accented Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke); and sweet, slightly dim Heather (Carrie MacLemore)—talk about the population of Seven Oaks College as if they were sociology students working in an unfamiliar foreign culture.

Seven Oaks is a heightened version of your typical university, though, and Stillman plays up the stereotypes and oddities of the campus’ citizens without passing judgment, creating a kind of anarchic playground for people who still haven’t really grown up yet. Violet, Rose and Heather act above it, but even they fall prey to the foibles of the environment (the origin of Rose’s affected British accent is one of the best jokes in the film). Through protagonist-of-sorts Lily, an incoming outsider who becomes increasingly baffled by Seven Oaks’ peculiarities, Damsels offers a window into a very funny, lightly absurd world of young adults trying to make adult decisions, even if they just end up dancing anyway.

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