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Whit Stillman

Easier Than Riding a Bike

Apr 07, 2012

Writer/director Whit Stillman lets out a chuckle when he’s asked how Violet Wister, the college student played by Greta Gerwig in his latest film, Damsels in Distress, arrived at the idea that the 1920s dance, the Charleston, was named after a man, not the South Carolina city. Violet, the ringleader of a small group of coeds who run a campus suicide prevention center, is an unreliable protagonist prone to authoritatively stating untruths as if they were facts. Her ambition is to start an international dance craze, but in the meantime, she finds reassurance in dating boys whom she thinks are inferior to her and attempts to help her fellow students combat depression with tap dance and a particular brand of soap. Like Stillman’s other social satires—Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994), The Last Days of Disco (1998)—Damsels in Distress revolves around young, well-spoken, upper-middle-class types who oftentimes are lovably ridiculous and might not be whom they appear to be.