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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Stillman returns to filmmaking with ‘Damsels in Distress’

By Rod Pocowatchit
The Wichita Eagle

Whit Stillman’s films are talkative, with lines zinging out of characters’ mouths sometimes faster than we can keep up with. His films are also humorous in a subtle, dry way, and filled with characters that are sometimes too confident for their own good.

Stillman became an indie darling with such films as “Metropolitan” and “The Last Days of Disco” — which came out in 1998. He’s been absent from filmmaking since then, until this year’s “Damsels in Distress,” which will have two special screenings at the Murdock Theatre on Thursday and Friday.

The film follows a group of prococious college co-eds who spend their time trying make people better themselves. They run a suicide prevention center with good intentions but horrible — and sometimes funny — results. They think they can cure depression with chocolate and donuts and a rigorous regimen of musical dance numbers.

The bouyant ensemble cast is led by Greta Gerwig, who plays Violet, the leader of the group. She’s conceited but denies being so, even as she suffers heartbreak after being dumped by her boyfriend. Her biggest goal in life — besides being loved — is to create an international dance craze. Seriously.

There’s also Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke), a Brit who suspects every man as a “player” type, and sexy but naive Heather (Carrie MacLemore). They welcome skeptical Lily (Analeigh Tipton) into their group, and together they try to teach good hygiene to idiot frat boys, and just generally try to rid the world of ugliness and dirty socks.

Stillman has a good time with his cast, and the performances keep things zipping along. The film actually touches on some deeper subjects, such as moral superiority and entitlement, but never gets weighty.

“Damsels in Distress” is a good, light-hearted time spent with characters we might not always like, but certainly can’t stop watching.

Get ‘Goon’ — The independent hockey film “Goon” (* * * ) recently came out on DVD and is a real find.

It’s not solely a comedy, though there are some very funny parts. It has heart, and gives Seann William Scott the chance to shine in his best role ever.

He actually acts, as a man named Doug, who is exceedingly nice but somewhat dim-witted. He works as a bouncer because of his size, but he’s really gentle at heart. He nonethless becomes the star player for a minor league hockey team on a losing streak.

The film also stars Jay Baruchel (a real-life hockey fan who also co-wrote the script with Evan Goldberg, who wrote the comedy “Superbad”) as his best friend, and Liev Schreiber as a force to be reckoned with on an opponent team.

The film follows Doug as he becomes friends with his new teammates, and as he heroically rises to led them to victory. He also meets a girl along the way, and tries to rectify his socially awkward ways.

It’s a crude, rough movie, with some harsh language, vulgarities and extremely bloody violence, so it’s not for the faint of heart. But it’s more than just a raunchy sports film — it’s a character study that’s rousing and ultimately — surprisingly — sweet.

And you don’t have give a hoot about hockey to enjoy it.

Reach Rod Pocowatchit at rpocowatchit@wichitaeagle.com.

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