Greta Gerwig leads the way as Violet, the arrogant, bluntly honest but wholly benevolent leader of a trio of girls who make it their mission to provide help and guidance to fellow Seven Oaks students whilst endeavoring to change ‘the atmosphere of male barbarism’ on campus. The girls take the potentially vulnerable transfer student Lily (Analeigh Tipton), whom they immediately assume either failed or was unhappy at her previous college, under their wing to offer their infinitely valuable support. As part of Lily’s tour of the campus, she is brought to the Suicide Prevention Centre where depressed students can come for therapy sessions including free doughnuts and tap dance classes chaired by the charitable girls.
The damsels’ distress comes in the form of their various love interests. Violet, who makes a point of only dating men of inferior intellect and social status, is sent on a ‘downward spiral’ as her dim-witted frat boyfriend cheats on her. Lily is torn between ex-flame Xavier (Hugo Becker) and the charming Fred (Adam Brody), while Heather (Carrie MacLemore) helps the unknowingly colour blind Thor to learn the colours of the rainbow. Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke), meanwhile, is constantly suspicious of the ‘playboy or operator’ types that plague the campus bars.
The plot may waver between the absurd and the near non-existent, but it has always been beside the point for Stillman who has never claimed to be much of a storyteller. Instead, we flutter in and out of situations and linger around the coed’s everyday conversations. The damsels deal with their distress by finding solace in bars of soap and attempting to create a new dance craze. The plot may feel like a series of disjointed occurrences, but the silliness of the story only adds to the film’s charm as the characters that inhabit it are simply irresistible.
Stillman clearly hasn’t lost his knack for delightfully dry humour, though, as Damsels is a true tour de force in deadpan comedy. The razor sharp dialogue avoids being excessively chatty as its enchanting wit and whim cuts through every scene and infiltrates every line. The cast mostly handle the script brilliantly, though Stillman’s characteristically quirky dialogue has a creeping tendency to sound overly unnatural at times.
Damsels in Distress may not have much semblance of a plot, but the sharp-witted and downright hilarious dialogue carries the film effortlessly well as every individual scene is superb in its own right. Greta Gerwig is the film’s dearest damsel as she delivers her lines with pitch perfect comedic precision and cements Stillman’s latest as a return to fine form.