Neely Swanson

“Damsels in Distress” – the distress was all mine [MOVIE REVIEW]

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Megalyn Echikunwoke as Rose, Greta Gerwig as Violet and Analeigh Tipton as Lily Photo by Sabrina Lantos, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

“Damsels in Distress,” the new film by the occasional filmmaker Whit Stillman, does not give credit to everyone who is in distress, for we are all in distress long before the film ends. In truth, the less said the better about this unfocused film about the few, the bland and the moronic.

Lily, played by the striking Analeigh Tipton, is a recent transfer to Seven Oaks college who is immediately gobbled up by a coven of girls, led by Violet (Greta Gerwig), Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and the dimwitted Heather (Carrie MacLemore). Their mission in life is to bring solace to the depressed and suicidal via intrusive questioning, donuts and tap dancing. In reality the girls spend most of their time philosophizing about male hygiene and how the ideal boyfriend is a dimwit who will never be challenging. Violet’s overriding ambition in life is to be the creator of a major dance craze like the Charleston or the Twist.

Also appearing in the film as a possible love interest for Lily is Adam Brody, all grown up from “The O.C.” and credible in an uncredible film that will definitely not help his career. Lily’s other love interest is a grad student named Xavier who practices a religion with unorthodox ideas about sex. Xavier, played by Hugo Becker, a French actor with an acknowledged slim resume, has an accent that has rendered his speech unintelligible. Originally conceived as a character named Tom, as American as apple pie, Stillman claims that they were never able to find an American actor to play the role; as in nowhere in English speaking North America was there an appropriate actor or nowhere in English speaking North America was there someone willing to play this character?

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In summary, the acting was flat, despite the fact that the director was deliberately going for dull affect; and the story was as incomprehensible as the tangle of wires in a cable box. Too many story lines, not enough stories. If, as was clearly the case here, the goal was style over substance, Stillman should have spent a bit more time on the style, because he spent no time at all on the substance.

In fairness, the girls do the best they can with what they were given; they just weren’t given enough. It would appear that Stillman was going for a straight-faced comedy of the absurd, something that is exceedingly difficult to pull off unless you are Alexander Payne or Charlie Kaufman. Stillman is neither and the film just ended up being so tedious that I began checking my watch every 10 minutes for what seemed an eternity.

If, after reading this, you still want to go, “Damsels in Distress” opens Friday April 6 at the ArcLight Hollywood and the Landmark.

Neely also writes a blog about writers in television and film at http://www.nomeanerplace.com

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