Damsels in Distress is a film about a clique of young women at a private college on the East Coast of America. We follow them over the course of a year, seen primarily through the eyes of new transfer student Lily (Annaleigh Tipton), who is taken into the group upon arrival (and slightly against her will) and group leader Violet (Greta Gerwig). This group of slightly delusional, well-meaning, over-privileged girls spend their time trying to cure their male peers of smelliness, rescue the depressed from suicide through coffee, doughnuts and dance and are crafting a brand new dance craze. Violet’s greatest wish in life is to start a dance craze, sincerely believing this will change the world.
I really enjoyed Damsels in Distress, but there’s no denying that it’s not for everyone. Some people will find Violet and her gang too irritating to enjoy the film and the sly, witty and rather silly humour won’t be to everyone’s taste.
But I loved it; I really did. I liked it’s sneakily satirical tone and the gentle teasing of Violet and her ideas and ambitions. She is mocked but in a kind sort of way, as if the film understands that though some of her ideas are seriously misguided, Violet’s intentions are always good. I personally found Lily to be far more annoying; her constant questioning and undermining of Violet seemed nasty and passive aggressive. I found her hard to sympathise with.
I loved the sweet sub-plot of Heather (all four girls had plant and flower names) and her boyfriend Thor and his quest to learn his colours. It was ridiculous and incredibly endearing. His pathological fear of rainbows due to the humiliation they brought him was a wonderful touch. Similarly, the running gag about the healing power of good soap and nice smells seemed to get both funnier and more logical over the course of the film.
The setting of college was perfect for the film; this was a story of young people trying to find their place in the world and find some sense and purpose in life. Violet’s distress when she feels she’s lost that was palpable. Everything she does seems to be with the design of creating order in a chaotic world, to provide herself with a sense of meaning and safety. There were genuine parts of shade in the film, a lightness of touch applied to tackling the sense of confusion and ennui often felt by the young.
As I said, it’s not a film for everyone, but Damsels in Distress is intelligent, witty and thoughtful and I would heartily recommend it.