Let's Go Dancing With Greta Gerwig!

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Sabrina Lantos/Sony Pictures Classics
Greta Gerwig and Adam Brody flaunt their footwork.
The Dinner: crab ravioli, at The Tin Table (915 E. Pine St.).

The Movie: Damsels in Distress, at Harvard Exit.

The Screenplate: Whit Stillman loves dancing, and his endearing new oddball of a campus comedy features talk of dancing, dance rehearsals, and two musical numbers that allows his young cast to cut a rug. So after seeing his earnest yet confused collegians cavort, you want to eat someplace nearby that's proximate to a dance floor. Fortunately, you can do all three on Capitol Hill, at the north and south ends of Broadway: dinner and a movie, plus dancing...

Dancing figured in Whit Stillman's three movies of the '90s: Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco. Violet (Greta Gerwig), the overbearingly well-intentioned queen bee at Seven Oaks College, wants to start an international dance craze, she explains, because it would make so many people happy. And other people's happiness--or what Violet believes it should be--requires that she sometimes needs to be a little pushy to achieve it. First she'll command a clique of followers (Megalyn Echikunwoke, Carrie MacLemore, and Analeigh Tipton), then they'll sort out the cads and clods around campus (Adam Brody, Hugo Becker, Ryan Metcalf, and Billy Magnussen), and finally Violet will conquer the world.

Stillman, like Violet starts small in his comedies, then gradually expands to philosophical concerns. Though Damsels is somewhat choppy and cheap in its editing and presentation, and Stillman is no master of composition (he's a writer first and foremost), his fourth feature is the most charming and generous comedy this spring. Violet, however misguided in her obsessions (soap, preventing happy suicide from committing suicide from low balconies, good manners), wants to do good in the world, and she's quite insistent about it. (She's like a cross between Emily Post and Margaret Thatcher.) You could call Damsels a comedy of benevolence as she tries to get her way with unintended consequences. Her followers don't follow. The boys aren't who they represent themselves to be, and when she ventures off campus on a spiritual quest, everyone frets that she is suicidal.

But on the contrary: Violet is full of life, full of herself, full of foolish pride, and blithe pronouncements. She's such an odd, eccentric character, played with just the right note of misplaced authority by Gerwig, that you'd like to take her to dinner and endure her lectures--perhaps at the Tin Table. There, we like the crab ravioli ($15), with mascarpone, carrot purée, micro basil, and grilled ramps. Then go dancing at the Ballroom, conveniently located in the same building, where you can practice Violet's international dance craze--the Sambola!

 
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