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Originally published Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 3:03 PM

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Movie review

'Damsels in Distress' doesn't measure up to Fred Astaire memories

"Damsels in Distress," a movie directed by Whit Stillman and starring Greta Gerwig and Analeigh Tipton, recalls a 1937 Fred Astaire movie with a similar title but doesn't measure up to the memories, says Seattle Times movie critic Moira Mcdonald. The film is playing at the Harvard Exit, in Seattle.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2 stars

'Damsels in Distress,' with Greta Gerwig, Analeigh Tipton, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Carrie MacLemore, Adam Brody, Hugo Becker, Ryan Metcalf, Billy Magnussen. Written and directed by Whit Stillman. 99 minutes. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content including some sexual material. Harvard Exit.

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Long, long ago, there was "A Damsel in Distress," a P.G. Wodehouse novel later adapted by its author into a 1937 movie musical starring Fred Astaire as a dancer in love with an heiress (Joan Fontaine). It's a charmer of a film, complete with George Burns and Gracie Allen as heaven-sent sidekicks, and seems to have been a vague inspiration for "Damsels in Distress," which re-purposes a few of the original movie's songs into a contemporary semi-musical. Written and directed by Whit Stillman ("Metropolis"), "Damsels" is an oddly retro tale of a group of college women determined to raise standards — hygienically, musically, romantically — at their school, mostly by singing and dancing.

This sounds irresistible, but there's a self-consciousness to "Damsels" that takes away much of the fun. Greta Gerwig, perpetually hitting a note of awkward seriousness as she recites her lines, plays Violet, the group's leader, a sweater-setted young woman who thinks of parties as a form of youth outreach. (You can tell that she smells of lavender.) She and her friends — all lit like collegiate angels — take awkward Lily (lovely Analeigh Tipton, from "Crazy Stupid Love") under their wing, cope with a number of inadequate young men and learn a few things about life, as one does in college. (Violet always refers to herself as "one.") By the end, as everyone performs a gawky dance number to "Things Are Looking Up" (a song from the 1937 movie) I was just wishing for Astaire — and for a little more fun.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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