Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Damsels In Distress
In my years as a cinemagoer, I’ve encountered a variety of different films. There’s ones that are so out and out bad they actually end up being good, ones that are so utterly bizarre that I’m often convinced that someone’s slipped something into my popcorn, and those with plots that build up so slowly that I have to have a little nap during them. And then there are films that are so shockingly mundane and awful that I’m not sure whether I should walk out of the cinema or throw something at the screen. Sadly Whit Stillman’s latest offering, Damsels in Distress most definitely falls into that last category.
Stillman is an Academy Award winning writer and director, best known for his 1990 film Metropolitan, which I admit, I haven’t seen, and certainly now have no intention of doing so. Stillman’s Wikipedia page claims that he is best known for his “sly depictions of the urban haute bourgeoisie”, a claim which is pretty much as pretentious as his most recent filmic offering.
Damsels in Distress is set at the fictional Seven Oaks college in the East Coast, one of the last major colleges to become co-educational and is filled with a mixture of idiotic alpha males and suicidal teens. Attempting to rescue Seven Oaks from this predicament are “The Damsels” – leader Violet, (played by queen of mumblecore films, Greta Gerwig) who intends to change the world with a new dance craze, her haughty best friend Rose who, for no particular reason speaks with a British accent after spending a month in London, the slightly dim Heather, and new girl Lily, played by “Analeigh off of America’s Next Top Model and that Ryan Gosling film”. The Damsels run the campus Suicide Prevention Centre and attempt to cure depressed students with tap dance and donuts.
Now, all in all, this could be a successful formula for a charming little indie film, but you would be mistaken. This film’s deadly mistake is that it relies too much on dialogue where instead there should be some kind of a plot. To put it bluntly, hardly anything happens in this film, and I’m almost certain that at least ¾ of this film is purely just Greta Gewig wittering on about something in a pretentious way. Stillman’s style of writing doesn’t appeal to me because he makes all of his characters talk using such a sophisticated and extensive vocabulary that if I wasn’t listening carefully I’d be convinced that they were talking about philosophy and the meaning of life rather than the boy they were in love with. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have a film where the characters are able to have intelligent characters but it starts to get a bit irritating when they all talk in the same way.
Luckily, the film does have a few saving graces. Adam Brody, better known to most people as Seth Cohen from the OC is charming as the charming Charlie, who finds himself caught in a love triangle between the girls. Also there is a sweet and funny smaller storyline involving one of the alpha males, Thor, who was never taught about colours as a child. What the film gets best, however is its cameos, as the funniest moments in the film were probably when Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat and Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza popped up. I was tempted to scream, “Don’t go! Please don’t leave me with these characters!” when they appeared briefly on-screen but I managed to resist. I will also admit that, despite hating her character, Greta Gerwig was charming and enjoyable to watch, and I could definitely see her becoming the new queen of indie films (can this happen please? I’d rather watch her a million times over than Zooey Deschanel) if only people would stop casting her in rubbish films like 2011’s Arthur.
So what I’m trying to say is that overall, Damsels in Distress was a completely dull and underwhelming experience. Unless you enjoy being bored out of your skull for a few hours whilst waiting anxiously for SOMETHING to happen plotwise, all I can say is, avoid this film. Maybe I’m not Stillman’s target audience, but the urban haute bourgeoisie definitely do not appeal to me.