Damsels in Distress - Discussion Guide
Author: Bryony Young Keywords:
Identity, care, humility, integrity, therapy, mental health, suicide
Film title: Damsels in Distress
Director: Whit Stillman
Screenplay: Whit Stillman
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton, Hugo Becker
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics (USA); Columbia Pictures (UK)
Cinema Release Date: 6 April 2012 (USA); 27 April 2012 (UK)
Certificate: PG-13 (USA); 12A (UK) Contains moderate sex references, language and suicide references
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This comedy follows four Ivy League college girls who are ‘damsels in distress’ and whose mission statement is to ‘take a guy and make him realise his full potential.’
The film opens at the start of a new semester with new student Lilly (Analeigh Tipton) as she is introduced to lead character Violet (Greta Gerwig), and her friends Heather (Carrie Maclemore) and Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke). They are all ‘trying to make a difference to people's lives’ via unusual means, such as establishing a suicide prevention centre that uses unconventional forms of therapy, including tap-dancing and washing with nice-smelling soap, as well as attempting to help one student, Thor (Billy Magnussen), overcome colour blindness.
Lilly soon reveals her previous summer-long affections towards French exchange student Xavier (Hugo Becker), but also has fresh interest from Charlie (Adam Brody), who claims to work in ‘strategic development’. When Charlie’s mysterious character is investigated by Violet, he is revealed as a fake, whose name is Fred. Meanwhile, Violet splits up with her weird boyfriend, Frank (Ryan Metcalf), and the relationship breakdown casts doubts over her previous deeply-held conviction that she is always right. Rose then reveals that Violet was bullied as a child and that this is her true motivation for ‘making a difference to peoples lives.’
Damsels in Distress was written and directed by Whit Stillman, who is known for producing dry, intelligent American comedies such as The Last days of Disco (1994) and Metropolitan (1990), which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1991 for Best Original Screenplay. However, Stillman struggled to make another film for 13 years for financial reasons, until the release of Damsels in Distress (2011).
Stillman has admitted during interviews about the film that he has suffered from some minor mental health issues in the past that influence him when writing. This is most evident in the central character Violet, as halfway through the film she reveals that she has created a whole new identity that is different from her childhood past. ‘The only way to end up in the perfect future,’ Stillman says, ‘is to invent it yourself.’ That is exactly what Violet does.
Questions for Discussion
What was your first reaction to the film? What do you make of the quirkiness of this film?
How is this film different from other films that are set within a college campus? Which stereotypes are familiar from these films? Are there any different ones?
Why is education and intellect an important part of Damsels in Distress?
The film addresses the problems of mental health in a satirical way. Do you think this was appropriate? Why/why not? How well does the film connect with real issues around mental health?
What do you think about Violet’s character? What do you think her motivations are for helping others? How does this change after Rose reveals her childhood background?
What do you think about Lilly’s character? Does she display any integrity in her relationships? Why/ why not?
Tim Keller wrote, ‘the essence of gospel [Christian] humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.’ Do any of the characters match up to Keller’s description? If so, how and why?
‘It is all this aggression and hostility that gets me down, not just [Rick’s] but also my own, it leaves you feeling unclean,’ says Violet. What do you think is being revealed here about the nature of humanity?
When Charlie’s true identity is revealed as Fred, he shows some honest moments of weakness both to Lilly and to Violet. Why is it important to show our weaknesses? What does Charlie’s character show us about issues around personal identity?
All the characters seem to have different moral and personal outlooks on life that create a clash of ideas. In light of this, can there be any absolute truth? Why/why not?
In the final sequence, the cast dances to George and Ira Gershwin’s ‘Things are Looking Up’ (from A Damsel in Distress, 1937), but is life this rose-tinted in reality? To what, or to whom, do you ‘look up’ for your hope?
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Author: Bryony Young
© Copyright: Bryony Young 2012
Unless stated otherwise, Bible quotations are from the New Living Translation (NLT) copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.