I really wanted to like Damsels in Distress. Like Woody Allen, Whit Stillman usually makes films about people who would annoy me a lot in real life, i.e., privileged rich people. As usual, Stillman points his camera to young women, this time 4 women at an elite liberal arts school. Or maybe I shouldn’t say “as usual,” since this was Stillman’s first film in 14 years. 3 of them, Greta Gerwig, Carrie MacLemore, and Megalyn Echikunwoke are friends who set out to improve the idiot men on campus, run a suicide prevention center, and are basically snobbish do-gooders who are pretty annoying but perhaps not ill-meaning. Looking for a roommate at the beginning of the year, they quickly pick out Analeigh Tipton, who is game but skeptical of the busybodyness and arrogance of her new friends, especially Gerwig. When Gerwig, who believes in dating dumb, fairly unattractive men because they aren’t heartbreakers, has her heart broken, she goes into a tailspin that makes her nearly suicidal. But her friends are there for her and she gets back on the wagon. It’s amusing enough, at least at first. Gerwig is a good comedic actor, even if her schtick can be a bit annoying sometimes. She’s certainly moved on to much better material of late than the mumblecore garbage at the beginning of her career.
Unfortunately, Stillman has half a script here. The jokes about how the stupidity of most of the men are kind of amusing at first, but really, really broad and feel like they come out of a dumb comedy than a witty satire. I like the occasional song and dance scene in a frothy fun film, but these, especially the one at the end of the film, don’t even make sense because it’s totally unclear how we’ve gotten from here to there. Like many films with script problems, the first half is fairly cohesive and enjoyable and it just completely collapses into incoherency in the last 45 minutes.
Disappointing. Not terrible, but disappointing.