DIRECTED BY WHIT STILLMAN
Chronicling the romantic misadventures of three odor-obsessed coeds who run an upper-crust university’s suicide-prevention center, Whit Stillman’s long-awaited Damsels in Distress is a wry, absurd delight. It’s been 14 years since Stillman’s last look at the foibles of well-to-do youth, and while Damsels continues the writer-director’s preoccupation with that milieu, its overt zaniness is something of a departure.
Indie darling Greta Gerwig is wonderfully deadpan as Violet, the verbose leader of the film’s pack of preening, pretentious, but well-intentioned heroines. Her favoured pastimes are “philanthropy” (i.e. dating one of the school’s farcically simpleminded frat boys), and attempting to kick-start an international dance craze, but her priggish existence is thrown into disarray when she gives some unsolicited relationship advice that backfires. Happily, tap choreography and sunshine-scented bar soap offer an unlikely path to redemption. Meanwhile, Violet’s transfer student protégé (Annaleigh Tipton) is torn between the sly, faux sophistication of a French post-grad (Hugo Becker) and Adam Brody, as a preppy, posturing playboy.
All involved are perfectly cast, and Gerwig, in particular, shines. But it will come as little surprise to Stillman fans that it’s Damsels’ meticulous, mordant dialogue that truly steals the show. The filmmaker’s rapier wit hasn’t been dulled by his lenghty hiatus, and it, combined with Damsels‘ anachronistic, gently surreal air, results in an abundantly quotable, charmingly off-kilter confection.