Things are looking up: Whit Stillman has made another movie, his first since 1998’s The Last Days of Disco completed the urbane, preppy trilogy begun with Metropolitan and Barcelona. So welcome Damsels in Distress, an exhilarating gift of a comedy about college, the female intellect, the limitless male ego, inventing a new dance, and suicide prevention.
Greta Gerwig, the darling, leads the all-aces cast as Violet, a sophomore who yearns to make Seven Oaks U. a more congenial place for her and cohorts Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke), Heather (Carrie MacLemore) and Lily (Analeigh Tipton). Affronted by dorms that reek of soggy sweat socks, the girls seek to honor the best in a liberal-arts education and perfumed soap. Their good works extend to helping depressed students. Violet herself fights the old ennui after being dumped by Frank (Ryan Metcalf), a frat boy whose dimness is rivaled only by his roommate Thor’s (a wondrous Billy Magnussen). No wonder she takes up with Charlie (a stellar Adam Brody), who longs for days of gay sublimation and aspiring to something higher than “muscle-bound morons running around in T-shirts.”
At the end, the characters whirl around to the Sambola, Violet’s dance, and hide their secret hearts. This is the world as Stillman sees it, and to luxuriate for two hours in that retro bubble of sparkling wit is a pleasure not to be missed.