Before Wes Anderson made a name for himself with "Rushmore" and kindred spirit Noah Baumbach found his voice in "Kicking and Screaming" there was another filmmaker bringing a quirky, WASP-y world view to independent cinema, Whit Stillman.
From 1990 to 1998, Stillman made three films that helped shape a particular voice in American films: "Metropolitan," "Barcelona," and "The Last Days of Disco." Along the way Stillman found himself nominated for an Academy Award, honored with the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury prize and lauded as the next "big" thing. And then? Nada. Nothing. Not a peep. For 13 years Stillman was strangely absent from cinemas until last fall when his fourth film, "Damsels in Distress," debuted at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals. And for those theatergoers looking for some intelligence and, um, wit in their comedies, "Damsels" may be the perfect spring surprise.
Set at Seven Oaks, a somewhat generic American university, the film centers on three "damsels" - Violet (Greta Gerwig), Heather (Carrie MacLemore) and Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) - who hope to turn the lives of their hopeless classmates around through their efforts in unconventional suicide prevention therapy and unsolicited advice. Bizarrely, the trio seem to be living and thriving in their own world of prim and proper rules that don't quite fit in the 21st Century, but since it's college everyone around them just indulges in their quirkiness. After meeting the seemingly shy Lily ("Crazy, Stupid Love's" Analeigh Tipton), the trio appears on its way to becoming a quartet. Unfortunately for Violet, the leader of the retro-clique, Lily ends up the truth behind each "damsel" to light and it isn't be pretty. Will the ladies find their own path to love, happiness and, um, tap dancing in the end? And isn't Adam Brody a little old to be playing one of the love interests? I digress, but you can bet Stillman finds a way to avoid cliches while still providing a requisite happy ending.
After enjoying the film at Toronto, I was finally able to sit down with the four talented actresses in Los Angeles last month to talk about their moments in "Distress." During an extensive group interview, the ladies reflected on their characters, how they landed each role (Gerwig fought to play Violet), Stillman's directing methods and the joy of tap dancing in a fountain in the film's big musical number. You can watch the interview embedded in the post above and their enthusiasm and charm make it well worth your time.
"Damsels in Distress" opens in limited release Friday.
1995 | Mystery | NRSummary: Denzel Washington plays an out of work WWII vet who takes the wrong job and is soon neck-deep in a mess of politics, murder, and jazz in '40s Los Angeles.Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals
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Cast: Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Matt Lanter
1993 | Sports | PGSummary: Emotionally powerful sports classic featuring Sean Astin as a skinny high school kid with big football dreams and the determination to make his way towards his dream team at Notre Dame.Director: David Anspaugh
Cast: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
2013 | Comedy | NRSummary: Insanely funny comedy show created by Amy Schumer, who stars in brilliantly funny sketches about sex, city living, dating, and friendship.Director: Daniel Powell, Amy Schumer (creators)
Cast: Amy Schumer, Kevin Kane, Mike Houston
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Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster
2013 | Drama | RSummary: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill have boundless energy in the story of a real-life commodities crook who earned millions through scummy small-time stock trades.Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
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