Film Review: Damsels In Distress
By Adam Clery on April 27, 2012 in Film
Ladies, like those jumbo packs of Kit Kats, always come in groups of four. Always. Life has taught me this lesson, cinema has taught me this lesson, it’s an undeniable fact of chemistry and, to a lesser extent, maths.
The Plastics in Mean Girls, four; The Pink thingys in Grease, four; The Heathers in The Heathers, four; even The Spice Girls in Spice World The Movie, five, but mere months away from severing Geri like the erroneous lump of gangrenous flesh that she was.
Universal proof. Or Paramount, I forget who.
Anyway, with the news that frat-twat lolstravaganza American Pie is about to drag its bleeding body through the cinematic cat flap and wheeze to death in front of anyone with a shred of nostalgia left in them still fresh in my mind, I approached Damsels in Distress with some caution. ‘New girl comes to new school and needs new friends, there’s a boy involved somewhere and don’t we all learn a nice lesson’ – it’s been done, to death, and then done again as it was being lowered into the ground.
Thankfully though Damsels In Distress, rather than gluging heartily from the stale wine of teen comedy, manages to get a cork into the fermenting bottle and pull out a far more thoughtful and clever vintage for us all to share. There’s no fart gags, erection jokes, slapstick humour or Sum 41 in the soundtrack, it’s just a smart comedy set within the confines of a university campus.
As for a plot, I honestly wouldn’t know where to start.
There are, arguably, one or two central ideas that tie the film together, but to label them as the overarching theme of the film would be, frankly, wrong. There’s the suicide prevention centre and mood-lifting tap dancing classes that the girls run, but this always little more than background music to the cacophony of set pieces and ideas that litter Whit Stillman’s long awaited return to film making.
There’s a ton of relationships that flitter off and on during the film, Adam Brody (or Seth from The OC to you and me) appearing early and looking as if he’s about to set up a long winded cheesy romantic story and then, well… not; a whole host of eye-wateringly dumb jock types who are seen by the girls more as social projects than love interests; the much coveted, charming, chiseled French guy, who’s ultimately only interested with getting his plot into the nearest spoiler. None of which engross you long or hard enough to be classed as the backbone.
Overall then, Damsels in Distress as best viewed as a sketch film. Every set-piece is as relevant and entertaining is it is fleeting and frivolous. That might sound like a contradiction in terms but it’s this sort of joyous aimlessness that gives the film it’s overall charm. You’ll never be totally sure exactly what’s going on, but not in a hang-on-who’s-he-shagging Vanilla Sky way, Damsels is like peeling all the lids off your tins and pulling a random one out for dinner, always tasty, but no illusion of forethought.
If there’s one thing that must be taken away from this film though, it’s the performance of Greta Gerwig. Cast as the ring leader of the group, she pulls out the sort of glazed-over deadpan performance that will surely now make her the go-to girl for any future Woody Allen in a dress type role. Funny films always lend themselves to being quotable afterwards, but every last inch of funny in this film comes from the delivery.
So, a reasonably funny film, with no discernable plot, that hops and flits from one idea to the other, and contains only one noteworthy performance. On the face of it not a gleaming recommendation, but this is a film I heartily recommend you see. Choc full of chemistry and playfulness, this shoegazing look at life and love seeps charisma, and is probably destined for a long career on the DVD shelves of people who know what the perfect film is for a rainy Sunday.
You’ll probably not get why, but you’ll enjoy this, even if it’s only because of the dance instructions at the end.
Damsels In Distress opens Friday the 27th of April at the Tyneside Cinema
- FILM REVIEW: Argo