Indie Snapshot: Damsels in Distress

by admin April 6, 2012 6:00 am
Indie Snapshot: Damsels in Distress In Damsels in Distress, three college girls set out to revolutionize their East Coast university through the power of intellect and dance. The film is Whit Stillman's first picture in 14 years (his last being 1998's The Last Days of Disco) and is far too coy to be successful. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Clique leader Violet Wister (Greta Gerwig), principled Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and bright-eyed (Carrie MacLemore) are three friends on a mission to better their Seven Oaks college campus through frat boy outreach, suicide prevention and a commitment to the better-smelling things in life. They enroll transfer student Lily (Analeigh Tipton -- yes, the America's Next Top Model contestant) in their group in order to increase their shot at getting through to their depressed peers via an outreach program that teaches self-love through the power of dance. The ladies find themselves romantically inundated with various undeserving (in most cases, anyway) men, including "smooth operator" Charlie (Adam Brody), sexpot Xavier (Hugo Becker) and idiotic fraternity brothers -- though to be clear, Seven Oaks honors a Roman system and not a Greek one -- Frank (Ryan Metclaf) and Thor (Billy Magnussen), who throw our group of young women into quite the tailspin.

I'm going to be straightforward here: I did not get this movie at all. Stillman famously is very tongue-in-cheek in his dialogue, and purposely has his characters' words flooded with satire and irony. This may be fun if you're a die-hard Metropolitan (arguably Stillman's best film) fan, but as a relative newcomer to his work, Damsels was at times painful to watch. On top of the movie's exchanges being flooded with cryptic wording, the acting is at times downright terrible. The central actresses were perfectly fine and actually pretty great when their inner psyches and friendships were explored. Meanwhile, Metclaf and Magnussen were laugh-out-loud hilarious, but -- as any Gossip Girl devotee will tell you -- Becker is a distractingly terrible actor. As TWoP recapper Jacob Clifton once eloquently put it: "Sometimes when he talks it is so gross. He's real cute and I feel bad saying it, but sometimes just words coming out of his mouth makes me want to fucking vomit. Maybe in French it sounds better, but his English sounds like somebody choking on oysters sometimes. Just a gullet full of oysters, slippin' and slidin' around." His scenes brought down Damsels, which was such a shame considering that, on the page at least, his character had so much potential.

If you are set on checking out Damsels for yourself, I'd suggest you try to forget about the hype that surrounds Stillman (something that I clearly failed to do) and enjoy seeing a few familiar faces (Parks and Recreation's Aubrey Plaza, The Office's Zach Woods and Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat have small, but excellent spots) and bask in the inarguably beautiful visual backdrop of the film, thanks to Staten Island's Snug Harbor and its natural loveliness. Maybe you'll be able to appreciate what I found far too pretentious.

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