In Damsels in Distress, the contemporary young women and men at the leafy East Coast college called Seven Oaks carry on as if it's 1961. Whatever imaginary era writer-director Whit Stillman has in mind, the customs he explores in this wan, self-consciously talky little drama intrigue him more than they do his audience. Some two decades after Stillman gracefully dissected New York debutante society in Metropolitan, he's still drawn to the tiny troubles of sheltered young people. Only now he's got the instincts of Rip Van Winkle at a mixer.
If anyone can get away with the faux grandiosity of the dialogue, it ought to be Greenberg's Greta Gerwig. Certainly she gives it the old college try, playing the leader of a group of coeds who ''help'' depressed students by offering counsel, encouraging good hygiene, and promoting the benefits of social dancing. Gerwig can't make her character come alive, though, and neither can Adam Brody as one of their neediest male cases. In the midst of the froufrou, lovely, stalklike Analeigh Tipton (Crazy, Stupid, Love) is delightful as a student who enjoys being normal and living in this century.