Violet (Gerwig), Rose (Echikunwoke), and Heather (MacLemore) are three students at an East Coast Ivy League university who feel it is their mission in life is to save their fellow students from themselves. They run a suicide prevention center, encourage hygiene and try and change the less intelligent and mature of the men on campus by dating them. When new student Lily (Tipton) arrives, they eagerly take her under their wing and into their well-meaning but eccentric crusade to make the world a better place.
Not to be confused with the trope Damsel in Distress.
This film contains examples of:
- Ambiguous Disorder: when Violet was a girl, she would perform various actions in an obsessive-compulsive manner, starting all over again if she couldn't do them right ten times in a row.
- Beauty Is Bad: Violet believes this, at least about men. You just can't trust those handsome bastards, especially if they happen to also have brains!
- Brainless Beauty: Heather is the most conventionally pretty of the girls and by far the dumbest.
- Bungled Suicide: Depressed students keep leaping off of the top of Robertson Hall. The problem is, it's just two stories - high enough for them to hurt themselves badly, but not high enough to actually kill them.
- Catchphrase: "A playboy or operator move."
- Compulsive Liar: Once Violet realizes that Fred aka Charlie has made up basically everything he told Lily, he becomes incredibly attractive to her, while Lily herself is horrified.
- Condescending Compassion: Violet has turned this into a life philosophy, making it her mission to seek out people who are objectively inferior to her and help improve them.
- Dance Sensation: Featured in the ending sequence of the film as part of Violet's attempt to start a new dance craze. The moves are explained in titles which appear during the sequence.
- Decoy Protagonist: At first it looks like Lily will be the main character but gradually it becomes clear that this is Violet's story.
- The Ditz: Thor and Frank - the latter insists his eyes must be colourless rather than blue because if they were blue wouldn't everything he looks at be a shade of blue?
- Fauxreigner: Rose is actually American but has been speaking with a cut glass English accent for a decade after a six week trip to London.
- Floral Theme Naming: Violet, Rose, Heather, Lily.
- Fratbro: Parodied by exaggerating the stupidity of the character type to the point where it's impossible to see them as any sort of oppressive elite - the fratboys in the movie need every scrap of privilege they got, just to survive.
- French Jerk: Xavier is kinda full of himself, hypocritical, and condescending in a way that isn't charming like Violet.
- Hiding Behind Religion: Xavier considers himself a Cathar, which is supposedly why he has to insist on anal sex.
- Hypocrite: Xavier practically drags Lily away from Charlie, claiming that he was clearly trying to get her drunk (Lily had been buying her own drinks, and in fact Charlie had just been telling her that she should slow down). What's the first thing he does when his girlfriend breaks up with him and he sets out to seduce Lily? Pour her a glass of wine.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Lily ultimately decides that, while Violet's eccentricity is charming, she herself would rather be just one more boring, ordinary person.
- Insistent Terminology: Violet isn't depressed, she's in a tailspin.
- The Polly Anna: Violet, in a weird very composed sort of way.
- Pride Parade: One day Lily and Thor were in town together, and saw "a parade with rainbow flags." This was a problem for Thor, who is so dim that he doesn't know the names of colours.
- Proper Lady: Violet.
- Self-Deprecation: Violet is somehow both charmingly condescending and also subtly self-deprecating—one of the first things she says to Lily is that they can probably share clothes even though she's "too fat", and Lily is rather alarmed whenever her casual and mild criticism of Violet provokes Violet into cheerful self-flagellation over her own character flaws. Could have something to do with that clinical depression Violet doesn't want to deal with.
- Signs of Disrepair: the first time that we see the
one word has fallen off the sign. You can probably guess which one.
- Sudden Musical Ending
- Sympathetic P.O.V.: The Damsels — an arrogant clique trying to shape their university to their way of thinking — would be the Rich Bitch villains in most other movies, but we get to know them and for all their eccentricities and flaws they are deeply lovable. Likewise the dimwitted jocks of the local fraternities are adorable goofs, while characters who would normally be heroes in a university story — the editor of the college paper and a depressed goth girl — come across as judgmental jerks.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: They're not married, but the gorgeous and intelligent Violet is deeply in love with Frank, who is neither of those things and remains so even after he cheats on her with Priss and they break up
- Unfortunate Names: We find out that Violet Wister was born Emily Tweeter ("What, like a bird?").
- Women Are Wiser: Part of the Damsels' philosophy. They aim to rectify the "atmosphere of male barbarism" around the college.Violet: We've got to keep in mind that these guys are young people. They're essentially immature and crying out for help and guidance.Rose: Though they don't know it.Heather: No, they don't, but we do.Lily: But aren't they the same age as we are?Rose: Only numerically.