As outdoor temperatures warm up we can expect the usual influx of fantasy films to hold dominion of our movie theaters. The Dark Knight Returns will take us back to Gotham City and Prometheus will lead us to the alien infested planet LV-426. Who'd'a thunk that a place called Seven Oaks College would be just as removed from the real world, and it would spring from the mind of Whit Stillman?
Sony Pictures Classics' normally sky blue opening card is bright pink here, the first indicator that Damsels in Distress will be wall to wall playfulness. Under a frequently heard '50s shoo-be-doo style chord progression we meet Violet, Heather and Rose who spy with their little eyes Lily, a new student on campus. They quickly swoop in to usher her into their world of poise, perfume and personal betterment.
We learn that she comes from a humble background, which may explain her need to coach blockhead frat boys how to behave, but this is thankfully a storyline that isn't hammered home with too many tearful monologues. Oh, yes, there are tears, because all college students are but an eyelash from suicide (hence the girls' round-the-clock suicide prevention detail) but the “tailspins” on display are never all that threatening. When fate deals our hero a sour hand, we know she's just one newly-invented dance craze away from true bliss.
Damsels in Distress is among the most mannered films I've ever seen. It makes Stillman's absurd li'l socialite gabfest Metropolitan look like a Cassavettes film by comparison. The delivery is everything, and Gerwig just nails it. When she describes the creator of The Twist as “Chubbard Checker” it took me a few minutes before the ridiculousness hit me.
Damsels in Distress is a love it or hate it movie. Personally, I think the ones who aren't charmed to pieces by its endless banter and preposterous characters very much need our help to expand their tastes and accept a more enlightened purview of what, indeed, is refined and acceptable motion picture entertainment.