Monday October 24th 2011

In her tenth and final year selecting the London Film Festival Surprise Film, Hebron undoubtedly had some making up to do. Last year’s Brighton Rock and 2009’s Capitalism: A Love Story were both pretty bad by anybody’s standards, but worse they were entirely unsurprising. When last night’s screening finally rolled around, similar candidates were lining up in the forms of My Week With Marilyn and The Rum Diary.

An unusually excitable Hebron took the stage fifteen minutes late and went through the usual rigmarole of getting the audience to guess the film. All the obvious choices were well represented as well as a few more outlandish guesses from the hopelessly hopeful (yes, we’re definitely going to get the world premiere of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Hebron claimed that nobody had guessed correctly, but assured us that the film — while small and entirely without explosions — was one she had a genuine passion for, adding, “I know I say that every year but it’s true this time.”

Everyone looked slightly mystified to learn that they wouldn’t be seeing the next Bond film a year before release. Everyone, that is, except for one plucky blogger who took to Twitter to announce …

And by fuck he was right.

[To be fair, I hadn’t actually heard of Damsels in Distress until Guy Lodge mentioned a couple of weeks ago that he thought it might be the Surprise Film.]

If you’re as ignorant as the 2-weeks-ago me then rest assured that there’s really only one thing you need to know about Damsels in Distress, the first film in 13 years from indie darling Whit Stillman …

Yep, this movie contains spectacularly high levels of Mumblequeen, and she’s absolutely on point. Gerwig plays Violet, the leader of a group of self-appointed suicide prevention agents at an East Coast university, who treat clinical depression with tap dancing and preach sympathy for the college’s hopelessly simple jocks. Crazy comma Stupid comma Love full stop‘s Analeigh Tipton and new faces Megalyn Echikunwoke and Carrie MacLemore round off the quartet nicely.

With its stylised, instantly quotable dialogue and bizarre, meandering plot diversions, Damsels in Distress definitely isn’t for everyone (it certainly wasn’t last night) but give yourself over to Stillman’s wilfully oddball style and it’s hard not to get swept up in such a joyfully arch — and strikingly unfamiliar — approach to campus comedy. If Easy A was Mean Girls‘s copycat little sister, then Damsels is her impossibly cool older cousin.

And that’s all I have to say about that for now.