Damsels in Distress harkens back to the early days of all-male colleges first going coed. Young ladies tend to bring higher virtues, if not better hygiene to the university environment and the boys at Seven Oaks U. seem at a loss when trying to adapt to the gals' lofty, if not bizarre, standards. This daft comedy is full of original, off-beat young ladies struggling to maintain (or perhaps obtain) their sanity on a campus full of smelly, suicidal boys.
Violet, played by Chloe Sevigny's doppelganger Greta Gerwig (No Strings Attached), is the ringleader of the group. She has big ideas and no problem forcing them down other girls' throats. But her kooky theories are well-argued and heck, she seems to have nothing but the best interest of the poor, helpless new girl, played by Analeigh Tipton (Crazy, Stupid Love) at heart.
I wasn't sure if I should love or hate Violet, but I found my waffling intriguing. Her student organization offers free doughnuts, but only to those who are certifiably suicidal. When it comes to dating strategy, she's very clear. People always want to date someone cooler than themselves, but she insists that dating someone beneath her will prove to be a much more successful match. (Note to Violet -- I've tried this -- just because he's less good looking than you, has a lower IQ and makes less money, doesn't mean he won't dump you on your butt.) However, it is fun to watch these girls employ their oddball strategies, whether success or massive failure ensues.
The movie is at its best with cheeky dialogue (Violet: "Have you ever heard the expression, 'prevention is nine-tenths the cure?' Well, in the case of suicide, it's actually ten-tenths") and tap dance routines with a character called "Freak Astaire," but as interesting as these damsels are, the lack of satisfying story makes them a bit unwieldy. Violet's goal of creating a worldwide dance craze is a worthy one, but guess what? Her dark past of creating a new identity for herself is even more worthy of screen time and I only wish writer/director Whit Stillman (The Last Days of Disco) thoroughly investigated this sub-plot and let it fuel the story.
Bottom line: Damsels in Distress is full of truly original characters and sassy dialogue which may inspire a cult following but struggles to incorporate them into a satisfying story that anchors the kookiness.
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