Distress is a comedy about a trio of beautiful girls as they set out to revolutionize life at a grungy American university the dynamic leader Violet Wister (Greta Gerwig), principled Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and sexy Heather (Carrie MacLemore). They welcome transfer student Lily (Analeigh Tipton) into their group which seeks to help severely depressed students with a program of good hygiene and musical dance numbers. The girls become romantically entangled with a series of men including smooth Charlie (Adam Brody), dreamboat Xavier (Hugo Becker) and the mad frat pack of Frank (Ryan Metcalf) and Thor (Billy Magnussen) who threaten the girls friendship and sanity.
Why did this well- written, decently- performed anachronism of a deceased era, bore me to oblivion? College women in 50's garb running a suicide prevention clinic; clinging to the mission of saving the sanity, with doughnuts, of those who have not shown an ounce of intellectual integrity or ingenuity in accomplishing the feat on their own. Or the rescue of the dumbest college boys, whose IQs wallow in the single digits; they were minimally salvaged by their mediocre skills on the dance floor.
The film is a metaphor for archival films (Astaire/Rogers) stereotypical, archetypal, female roles seen through the "male gaze".
Whit Stillman's "Damsels" are brainy beauties named for flowers (Greta Gerwig "Violet" gives a sound, even profound performance as the leader, philosopher, "depressant", dancing her way through a "tailspin", Jungian in perpetually scrutinizing her actions and reactions, decisions and indecisions).
The age of innocence on the college campus ended uproariously with "Animal House" in 1978. This tepid, saccharine, inane rendition of the elimination of the "Roman" fraternity system after a tepid, plagiarized toga, jousting party; fluffy, perfectly coiffed, analytical coeds, floundering in valueless relationships; reeling male stupidity, induced yawns of inertia from an unfortunate but sparse audience.
The blatant literary and historical references of "damsels in distress' (P.G. Wodehouse, "A Damsel in Distress"; Chaucer and his ribald tales; "Arabian Nights") did little to redeem the silly scenario. Even a dose of mythology: the myth of Sisyphus and his weighty, eternal nemesis did little to alleviate the triteness of this flick.
"Damsel" originated in the French language; a single, fair maiden, powerless, yearning to be saved, preferably by a handsome prince; the "distress" lies in the absence of any valiant "knight" to save or be saved by these "Damsels" that are anything but distressed; "damsels" a contemporary stereotype of feminist criticism.