A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Damsels in Distress is a quirky indie that isn't the crude raunchfest audiences might expect from a college-set comedy. It's actually very tame, with the exception of some making out and a few references to a sexual relationship based on the boyfriend's unorthodox religious beliefs. The issue of suicide prevention is dealt with in a wry manner (the main characters get depressed students interested in tap dancing and musicals). Language includes several uses of "bitch," as well as "damn," "retard," and "ass"; drinking is limited to a scene at a fraternity party. It's notable that the main characters are female, since so many college movies feature guys in the spotlight. But with so much dialogue, it's likely younger teens may not be ready for Damsels in Distress' sophisticated humor.
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What's the story?
At the esteemed fictional college Seven Oaks University, a trio of co-eds -- Violet (Greta Gerwig), Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke), and Heather (Carrie Maclemore) -- attempts to make the campus tolerable by promoting good hygiene, dating oafish frat boys, and running a suicide prevention center. When transfer student Lily (Analeigh Tipton) arrives on campus, Violet's trio takes her under their wing, explaining their philosophy about everything from dating to the healing powers of tap dancing and free doughnuts. But Lily's membership in the do-gooding clique becomes fraught when she introduces smooth-talking Charlie (Adam Brody) to Violet.
Is it any good?
Director Whit Stillman's comedies are like a mix of the dialogue-heavy humor in Woody Allen, Wes Anderson, or Alexander Payne films. There's not much that happens in DAMSELS IN DISTRESS, but through all of the beguiling characters' hyper-articulate conversations, the audience grows to love them, even as they laugh at how earnest and naive and misguided they are most of the time. Indie darling Gerwig steals the show with her portrayal of caring but narcissistic Violet, whose dreams include starting an international dance craze (stay tuned for the credits) and overcoming campus body odor one perfumed bar of soap at a time.
But all of the four central girls are fabulous in this whimsical comedy. Echikunwoke is especially hilarious as a very English voice of reason who loves to judge guys as "operators" and who's so sensitive to smells that she routinely passes out when a rank group of guys walks past. Tipton, who had a small but pivotal role in Crazy, Stupid, Love as the smitten babysitter, enjoys a breakout role as the group's newcomer. She falls in love with cool Frenchman Xavier (Hugo Becker), whose odd religious beliefs require him to "express his love" in an eyebrow-raising manner. Fans of talky, quirky comedies will find Damsels in Distress delightful, whereas those who prefer Old School-type college flicks may wonder why anyone is laughing.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what Damsels in Distress is trying to say about self identity and what it means to be yourself even when no one around you understands why you're a certain way. How are the girls each an example of a unique personality?
How is this college comedy different than other campus movies? Why are so few college comedies focused on young women rather than young men? Why are fraternity guys depicted as so dimwitted?
The director is known for his dialogue; do you think a movie based on conversation rather than plot will engage teen audiences?
How does the movie address sex and relationships? Is it realistic?
- In theaters: April 6, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: September 25, 2012
- Cast: Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton, Greta Gerwig
- Director: Whit Stillman
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Arts and Dance, Friendship
- Run time: 99 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: mature thematic content including some sexual material
- Last updated: February 7, 2020
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