Monday, 10 December 2012



Too many damsels and not enough distress, frankly. This is one of those college campus movies where you're crying out for a mad axeman to leap out of the bushes and start with the headshots: probably too much of a tonal shift from the arch, talky and deeply unamusing character comedy but still not unwelcome. Of course it's not fair to hate a film for not being something it isn't trying to be, but it's perfectly fair to rag on it for what it is when it doesn't work. It's a comedy that isn't funny with a central core of characters you don't want to spend any time with at all and you wish they'd just go away and prattle somewhere else. Obviously I wanted to like it - why bother to watch it otherwise? - but with only a few moments excepted, I couldn't.

That central core of Damsels In Distress consists of three female students (led by Greta Gerwig) at a top-end American college who take a newcomer under their wing: I don't think it's ever revealed what they're studying and indeed the film's nearly an hour through before there's one brief classroom sequence. The rest of the time they run (sort of) a Suicide Prevention Centre where they attempt to dissuade the depressed from doing away with themselves with coffee, doughnuts and tap dancing lessons. Most of the time, however, they talk. Endlessly, on and on and on, about men, sex, relationships, themselves and their narrow, ill-informed, judgemental opinions, all delivered in that strange, unreal, heavily mannered manner. And then there are a couple of dance numbers thrown in out of nowhere, and it stops.

A few moments, peculiar or odd rather than recognisably amusing, break through the endless jabbering: one character is revealed as a member of a religious sect that only practises anal sex, one of the girls maintains a posh English accent for no reason besides having visited London once for four weeks. But they're not enough to make up for the dullness or the crashing self-importance of the four girls. They might be well-intentioned but they're damned annoying and once it became clear that no-one was going under a bus you just had to grit your teeth and wait for [1] someone to slap them or [2] the film to end. And I'm not, generally, in favour of slapping women.

Is it an intellectual piece? Maybe it's so intellectual I just can't grasp it. Maybe the jokes are so devastatingly clever and so subtle that they sailed straight past me. Maybe I'm just not up to the task and should watch Jackass or Latvia's Funniest Home Videos instead. Or maybe, just maybe, it's shallow and irritating. Certainly it's not as good as Metropolitan, Whit Stillman's first film, which was also dry and awkward in its comedy but seemed more likable. I really wanted to like it - I wouldn't have watched it otherwise - but I honestly couldn't.



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