Saturday, April 21, 2012

Damsels in Distress [2011]

MPAA (PG-13)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's review -

Damsels in Distress (written and directed by Whit Stillman) is a delightful and IMHO insightful film about four young good-looking and do-gooding women undergrads at "Seven Oaks," a small liberal arts college located presumably somewhere in the North Eastern United States.

The group, friends though they were, was nevertheless led by Violet (played by Greta Gerwig).  The others in the group included the ever positive Heather (played by Carrie MacLemore); the (at least in her estimation) more worldly Rose (played Megalyn Echinkunwoke) who went to London for six weeks as a child and came back "a Londoner," accent and all, which she studiously hadn't lost ever since; and finally Lily (played by Analeigh Tipton) who appeared to have been the most recent addition to Violet's group, who didn't completely buy Violet's pontificating (though never completely able to express why) and who Violet nonetheless accepted (if with an occasional shrug) into the group because as she put it: "It's good to have a challenge."  Violet was no dictator.  So convinced of her own rightness / goodness, she didn't feel that she had to be one ;-).  I just love this movie ;-) ;-)

These four good looking college women, who could easily have chosen to hang-out with similarly genetically/financially elite college men choose, in fact, to hang out with the men of the campus "loser frat", the D-Us.  And actually they do this in part to save/redeem the whole Greek (err at Seven Oaks 'Roman') system:  When the girls hear the fairly attractive editor of the school paper, the "Daily Complainer," call the "Greeks" elitist they don't let him get away with putting down entire group of people on their campus like that,.  First they correct him: "There are no 'Greeks' at Seven Oaks, only 'Romans' (a trivial difference one would suppose, apparently "Seven Oaks" requires fraternities to use Roman letters rather than Greek ones ...).  However, then they point specifically to the frat that they like the most -- the D.U.s.  "They're not elitists, they're a bunch of morons."  And even the previously arrogant/complaining editor of the school newspaper is stopped in his tracks.  He has to agree.  The D-Us really are a bunch of "dufuses" (or is it dufi? There's actually a discussion about that in the movie ;-).

But saving the D-Us or the Campus Greek/Roman system isn't the full extent of Violet's / her friends efforts to change the world for the better.  The four dutifully staff the campus' "suicide prevention center."

And they really care.  The first thing that a person gets when he/she comes to the center is a nice fresh donut.  Violet explains that "studies have shown" that "fresh pastries, in the United States especially a nice fresh donut, immediately evoke happy emotions and memories in test subjects."  So everyone coming into the Seven Oaks College suicide prevention center gets a nice fresh donut.  ONLY, if it turns out that the person isn't really suicidal (or at least very depressed... for instance, someone "just seeking information" ...) then they quickly snatch the donut away! ;-)  "We're an NGO, our sponsors are very strict on these sort of things ..." ;-).  So donuts go to only the very depressed.

Then, they've come up with this whole line dancing, dance therapy.  Again, Violet dutifully explains to someone one that "studies have shown" that apparently people in dance groups because they all have to work together learn to both depend on each other and have no time to be depressed (or something like that ...).  Indeed, very early on in the movie, Violet tells Lily that she wants to do something really important during her life, "like start a a dance craze."  And she's totally serious about this.  She's convinced (herself at least) that Richard Strauss (instead of Johann Strauss) who she credited as the inventor of the Waltz (in either case wrongly, though the latter would probably be closer to the truth than the former, but never mind...) ; the inventor of the Charleston who she believed (wrongly) was named Charleston rather than the dance being named after the city); and finally Chubby Checker who she (I believe finally correctly) credited as the inventor of the Twist; all "made the world a better place."  The latter part of the movie is devoted in part to Violet's attempt to start said "new dance craze" around a dance she invented and called "the Sambola..."

I found Violet's confidence (and really that of all the other girls in her group) in face of messing-up the facts just unbelievably endearing.  Yes, Violet was often strong-willed / opinionated.  Yes, she was often wrong, even completely wrong.  But she was utterly sincere (as only a 20-something 'wide-eyed' college student could be).  And she didn't really impose her opinions on others.  When challenged (as she was often by Lily) she just shrugged, accepted that not everyone was going to agree with her, and went on with her business.

I just found this to be a beautiful insight into young / up to early 20-something innocence.  And all four of the young women manifest this.

Anyway, Parents should note that though rated PG-13, I still would still rate it R.  Yes, there are a few (not many but a few) matter-of-factly made sexual references made by the characters in the film that I do think would more appropriate to an R-movie than to a PG-13 one.  More importantly however, as generally innocent as the movie is, I don't think that someone under 17 would really understand the movie anyway.  Yes, there are things in this film that would seem funny to just about everyone of any age.  But I do think that the movie would work best for someone college aged and above.

That said, I have to say, I really, really enjoyed the dialog and the acting of all four of the lead actresses in this film.  And I found the innocence and general positivity of this film simply wonderful!

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