Rated: PG-13 Reviewed by: Jim Release date: April 6, 2012 Released by: Sony Pictures Classics
It's nice to see writer/director Whit Stillman back after a lengthy cinematic sabbatical, even if his limited oeuvre (remember The Last Days of Disco) seem to draw mostly sophisticated audiences, those getting something out of his arch, wry sensibilities.
This one, Damsels in Distress, starring Greta Gerwig (who excelled in Greenberg opposite Ben Stiller), Analeigh Tipton (Crazy, Stupid, Love.), and Adam Brody (Scream 4) is tempered into the whirlwind of college cliques - at New England's grungy Seven Oaks. Stillman here finds some of the angst and jadedness of his earlier films like Barcelona using a little of the subject matter found in films like Heathers and, more recently, Mean Girls.
Getting the most of his casting and production assistants, a serviceable tale ending up more amusing and ebullient led by Gerwig's rhythmic, varied pretentious group head Violet. Violet, Rose, a British-y Megalyn Echikunwoke, and likable Heather (Carrie Maclemore) give their version of therapy for those actually depressed at a suicide prevention headquarters. The outset has Tipton's freshman Lily quickly being brought into the fold.
The story by the accomplished auteur turns on Violet's gradual melancholy when doltish beau (Ryan Metcalf) is found with Fitzgerald's Priss, a recent inductee, too. Lily is a little enamored over Tom (Hugo Becker), a French graduate student, while into a clash through negative expression with Violet when it comes to duplicitous literature student Charlie (Brody).
Gerwig's attention to the dry wit and the satirical potential of the material reaps enough merits to forward an endearing characterization. One that works particularly well as Violet's strong interest in tap-dancing (vital at the suicide hub) leads to wanting to begin a popular international dance, the Sambola. Tipton plays the down-to-earth Lily well enough, Echikunwoke is especially good in her enunciations (part of a running joke), and Brody features himself as a song-and-dance man, in a fine high-point drawing on a titular Fred Astaire picture, opposite Gerwig doing Things Are Looking Up (a Gershwin piece).
Stillman proves again a fine wordsmith even when seemingly absurd passages become more acerbic, if not memorably amusing. Even if it may have trouble reaching out to a wider audience like the aforementioned Lindsay Lohan-Rachel McAdams-Amanda Seyfried starer, there is often little distress in watching Damsels deliciously light up the screen, even like a rainbow that is hard to remember.
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