The films consumed at a festival don’t all have to be heavy, highbrow, “Capital C” cinema. They can be light, whimsical, and amusing. To that end, the lighter fare that a festival like TIFF tends to program, is often the sort of movie that is clever and comes with a lot of heart. In 2011, the movie that fits that criteria is DAMSELS IN DISTRESS – the first film from director Whit Stillman after a thirteen year hiatus.

The film focuses on four girls at University – Violet, Rose, Heather, and the newly transfered student they adopt into their social circle, Lilly. (Catch the connection?). While Violet, Rose, and Heather are essentially joined at the hip, they do not act cliquey. Rather, they spend a lot of their time and energy trying to help around campus and be positive spirits…misguided as their ideas might be. Like any new girl on campus, Lilly accepts the gesture of friendship, but she seems as perplexed as we are by many of the girls’ ideas and activities.

Greta Gerwig is unassailably charming in this film as the queen bee of this hive. She acts as though she’s living on another plain of existence, and sets the mood for the rest of the girls. While some of what her character goes through feels a little forced, there is no denying that she has a spirit about her that draws people in, and the camera seems to adore her the entire time.

The movie is flawed for certain. While painting the frat boys as blithering idiots is pretty funny, there were moments I thought it took things a little too far and started treading on just being mean. Likewise, while I’m all for ending a film with a musical number, there’s a small coda that feels like it should be happening as the credits roll, not before. So when Violet’s face fills the screen and breaks the fourth wall, it feels like the movie has already given you a hug goodbye, but still reaches out to give you a handshake with the wrong hand.

But for me, starting off the second half of my TIFF programme, this was exactly the sort of film I needed. Like a scoop of sorbet before one more heavy course at dinner. DAMSELS IN DISTRESS comes with a lot of laughs, and cemented Analeigh Tipton as an actress to keep an eye on, since I liked what she did in CRAZY STUPID LOVE earlier this year.

I’ll leave you with this – it takes a certain type of film to make a subject like attempted suicide funny. DAMSELS IN DISTRESS does it with ease.