Film review | Damsels in Distress – Whit Stillman’s fragrant girls are all at sea with smelly frat boys

Damsels in Distress

After a break of 13 years since his last movie, writer-director Whit Stillman, the WASP Woody Allen, is back with another droll, quirky comedy of manners.

If droll and quirky don’t do it for you, steer clear. Those who’ve seen his earlier films – Metropolitan (1989), Barcelona (1994) and The Last Days of Disco (1998) – will be aware that Stillman is very much an acquired taste; and if the well-heeled young preppies who customarily populate his work get up your nose, you’ll want to give Damsels in Distress a wide berth.

Set on the campus of a fictional East Coast college, Damsels revolves around a typical Stillman set of earnest, talky, old-beyond-their years and behind-their-time youngsters. Here they’re a clique of young women who have made it their mission to civilise the boorish male student population and to pep up the severely depressed with donuts, scented soap and tap dancing.

Whether you find their endeavours charming or irritating will be down to you, but even Stillman fans may find his new film uneven. I’m not convinced that everyone in the cast can cope with the film’s delicately odd tone, but indie favourite Greta Gerwig, who plays the group’s briskly confident leader, Violet, pulls off Stillman’s whimsical conceits with old-fashioned panache.

Movie Talk star rating:

On general release from Friday 27th April.

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