Some of the goofier portions of “Damsels” revolve around Gerwig’s character, Violet Wister, as she attempts to make Seven Oaks University a lovelier place. Along with distributing soap to one of the more malodorous dormitories, she plans to seal her legacy by inventing an international dance craze. Her creation, the Sambola, features prominently and hilariously in the closing credits, complete with instructions.
Previous movies integrated dancing into scenes, especially “Last Days of Disco,” but this marks the most overt use yet.
“I love it,” Stillman said of dance. “I love it in the real world, and I feel there’s too little of it. I think it’s very important in social life and in social worlds. It really kind of creates the reasons for people to get together and be together.”
“Damsels” features an array of fancy footwork, from tap to frat party boogieing to country line dancing. Yet it doesn’t take away from what Stillman is truly known for, and that’s witty dialogue, which flows rapid-fire, especially from Gerwig’s character and her potential love interest, played by Adam Brody of “The O.C.” fame.
“I think there are a lot of filmmakers who are great, but I think there are very few that love language the way Whit does. There’s kind of a dearth of that right now,” Gerwig said.
Gerwig knows a thing or two about working for talented writers, having also acted in movies by Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach, two filmmakers to whom Stillman is often compared (“my stock in the world of nervous men is quite high”).
“It’s fantastic, the reference to Woody Allen,” Stillman said. “But I thought it was a little illegitimate before, because he is very funny and breaks all the rules in order to have the comedy the best it can be. So he’s not naturalistic and realistic in a lot of his films. And this is the first film where I think the Woody Allen comparison is more relevant, because I think we’re taking liberties with naturalism in this film.”
But whether he is working in the reality of a New York condo or a fantasy world where tap dancing is therapy, Stillman proves he has one affinity that has nothing to do with aesthetics — it’s an enchanting sense of good cheer as the credits begin to roll.
Damsels in Distress
Opens Friday at Shirlington, Bethesda Row and Landmark’s E Street Cinema.