Movie review: Damsels in Distress

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From the May 3, 2012 edition

“Damsels in Distress” is like “Mean Girls” if it was directed by Woody Allen — which, if you’re anything like me, means it’s pretty fantastic.

Director Whit Stillman — not to be confused with Don Draper’s alter ego Dick Whitman — returns with his first film in over a decade. It’s good to have his wit back on the screen.

Typical of Stillman comedies, we’re dealing with the humorous mannerisms of bourgeois life. This time his setting is the campus of fictional Seven Oaks College. A trio of uppity co-eds is aiming to reverse the “barbarism” of the formerly all-male school.

Their ringleader is Violet (Greta Gerwig), a manners-obsessed do-gooder whose deeds barely mask how violently she judges everyone around her. She runs a suicide prevention center, mostly so she and her friends can feel better about themselves.

For the uninitiated, Stillman’s brand of comedy is highly acerbic. “Damsels” — his first film since 1998’s “The Last Days of Disco” — feels like he’s been saving it up.

It’s not necessarily worth a decade’s wait — his plot meanders whimsically — but it’s so bubbling and outright funny, I hardly noticed.

Gerwig takes her next step toward Hollywood darlingdom here. She’s pitch-perfect funny … and will next be seen appearing in Woody Allen’s “To Rome with Love.”