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Movie Review: Damsels in Distress

Left to Right: Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke), Heather (Carrie MacLemore), Violet (Greta Gerwig) and Lily (Analeigh Tipton). Photo by Sabrina Lantos, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Of late, it is rare for a movie about young people in college where the characters are not driven by influenced in, and obsessed with sex. Coincidentally released not long after the finale in a series of films that is the paragon of the college-sex flick (American Reunion) where every character is equally attracted to sex and scared of it, Damsels in Distress features young females and their young male counterparts, all of whom far more complex, introspective, and honest, than anyone recently seen on screen.

Violet (Greta Gerwig) and her female compatriots run the Suicide Prevention Centre at Seven Oaks, and feel strongly compelled to set straight the males around them (their distress), in terms of manners, grooming, and attitude. They seek to help girls get over boys, date less attractive and intelligent males in order to boost their esteem, and, not entirely unrelated, start a new world wide dance craze.

They carry on in conversations that seem a far more real, if only refreshing, representation of the college world. They discuss sex at times, as well as love and relationships, but none of them are exactly sure they are right or know what they are talking about. Assuredly, however, they are all eloquent and tempered, which is at the heart of why this movies simultaneously succeeds and fails.

There is no beginning or end; Damsels feels less a movie and more a series of vignettes, a sense that is compounded by titles littering the film as if it were done by Quentin Tarantino. The ending, or rather the end of the movie, is hurried, trying to find closure to a film that has not prevailing problems, no particularly compelling antagonist, and no sense of time or space.

Depression and suicide are at the heart of the movie, but it is dealt with in neither a serious manner or as a point of satire. In an age where bullying has taken the forefront as a serious issue in schools, Seven Oaks seems to have a suicide problem, though the film is light-hearted and deals with it casually, in the same vein as students illicitly fooling around in the library.

The dramatic turn takes place with Violet catches her boyfriend cheating on her, and she quickly turns depressed and perhaps suicidal. However, she is not really depressed, the boy is not necessarily her boyfriend, and he may or may not have been really cheating.

Perhaps it is all to say that the problems in these girls’ lives are not that important, but they feel compelled to find importance. Perhaps still this is part of their existence, growing up and learning, and in need of structure and purpose.

It is not exactly certain whether the director Walt Stillman truly believes what he has his female characters say, or if he is using the movie to simply condemn all women like that in order to make a point or yet, obtain revenge on women that turned him down in real life. In a handful of other movies, Stillman has offered stories loosely based on his life, and here may be a similar endeavor, showing the frivolity of women who seek to change men while maintaining preconceived notions in their head before even meeting someone.

Cute and quirky, with some good laughs and plenty of dialogue that makes one ponder, Damsels has an identity problem, leaving the viewer in distress, wondering what–if anything–is the meaning of a movie where characters really don’t have much to be bothered by at all.

[star v=25]

Anthony Marcusa

A pop-culture consumer, Anthony seeks out what is important in entertainment and mocks what is not. Inspired by history, Anthony writes with the hope that someone, somewhere, might be affected.