The Cure for the Common Coed

The Hyperarticulate Collegians of Whit Stillman's Damsels in Distress

The Cure for the Common Coed
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In Whit Stillman's Damsels in Distress, a young female student transfers to an East Coast university and finds herself welcomed, almost forcibly, into a female clique. Led by the Doris Day–ish Violet (Greta Gerwig), this small, unofficial sorority of Seven Oaks College is devoted to principles of respect, making good choices, and not killing yourself. Their days are spent giving doughnuts and tap-dance lessons to distraught students at the school's suicide-prevention center. Their nights are spent communing in pajamas and curlers, discussing, with a head-spinning level of precision, their goals, their dreams, and boys.

It's totally beguiling. At first, the girls' hyperarticulate, perfectly harmonious affectation suggests something otherworldly: Stepford coeds or robots that read about 1950s college life in an encyclopedia. But Damsels in Distress is wholly earthbound, and soon the human cracks start to show. Hearts are broken. Lies are exposed. Girls who should know better are bamboozled into degrading sex. Personalities are swapped like hats. Suicide is attempted, and prevented. Life philosophies swarm like gnats, buzzing endlessly around these under- construction kids.

Anchoring everything is the aforementioned Gerwig, a mumblecore veteran who here disappears into a totally stylized, wildly anachronistic character, and Stillman's script (Metropolitan, Barcelona), which never stops surprising even as it exasperates (on purpose—he's writing about college kids, for God's sake). The world of Damsels in Distress doesn't look a lot like life-as-it-is, but it's the most lyrical portrait of the insanity of American college life I've ever seen. recommended


Comments (7) RSS

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Maybe I've been out of college for too long, but I have no idea what the 'insanity of American college life' is suppose to be, and from the sound of it, this movie isn't going to help me remember...

Growing up, learning some stuff, living on your own, making new friends, getting to class at 9:00 on a Friday, having too much to drink, living like a monk because you don't have any money, etc. Yeah. That was insane. Gave me schizophrenia as well...

Posted by dude-man on April 26, 2012 at 6:56 AM · Report this
David Schmader 2
The insanity of 24-hours-a-day self-invention restrained only by the limits of your imagination is mostly what I'm referring to...
Posted by David Schmader on April 27, 2012 at 1:44 PM · Report this

What is the Whit Stillman film with Chloe Sevigny?
Posted by SeMe on April 27, 2012 at 3:13 PM · Report this
Grrr 4
Lena Dunham can learn a thing or two from Whit Stillman to add more bite to HBO's Girls.
Posted by Grrr on April 27, 2012 at 3:46 PM · Report this
Posted by corky on April 27, 2012 at 4:05 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 6
@ 3, "The Last Days of Disco."
Posted by Matt from Denver on April 27, 2012 at 4:25 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 7
Dang, that's what happens when I don't refresh before posting....
Posted by Matt from Denver on April 27, 2012 at 4:26 PM · Report this

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