Children who were born when Whit Stillman's previous film The Last Days of Disco was released are now 14-year-old teenagers hating their parents. It's been a while. So going into the theater I barely remembered his tongue-in-cheek-iness set among the world of people who put Ralph Lauren sheets on their bed and cherish their Laura Ashley placemats. Damsels in Distress was bubbly and surprising for the first 30 minutes. Then I found myself twisting uncomfortably in my seat, giving courtesy laughs and looking at my watch.
The month of April belongs to this film's star, Greta Gerwig. This time last year, she brightened up the otherwise dismal Arthur remake, and made me revisit Greenberg just so I could watch her wear cardigans and look awkward. Here she plays Violet, the head of a bizarre clique of college girls who have assigned themselves the task of changing the world. Their actions (like running the Suicide Prevention Center and dating less than attractive boys to boost their morale) seem philanthropic, but there's just something…off.
Stillman gives you an entire sea of plot lines to swim around in, none of which really wrap up. Rose's moronic boyfriend (Ryan Metcalf) cheats on her with a girl whose life she saved at the Suicide Prevention Center, Lily (Analeigh Tipton) gets intimate with a Frenchman who has questionable religious affiliations, and students are getting an F in Killing Themselves as they have taken to jumping off a building that is only two stories high.
I knew better than to expect things to come to a satisfying end, but at least the ride there is fun--you never know what razor-edged and hilarious things the characters are going to say next. The way they communicate sounds unnatural and elitist, like if Heathers was written by a Mensa member. For instance, Adam Brody can't just be a guy sending a drink over to a girl's table. He repeatedly gets called a "playboy" and an "operator" by Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke). And remember that the girls want to change the world? Violet thinks that the best way to do it is to start a dance craze (much like The Twist, created by whom she calls "Chubbert Checker"). On the whole, Stillman still has interesting things to say as an indie filmmaker. But even though it's filled with things that are worthy of making into personal jokes with my unnatural, elitist friends, I eventually stopped chuckling and started wondering where I could get a Laura Ashley placemat.