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Whit Stillman's movies are dialogue driven, which is not everyone's cup of tea. This is the first of a trilogy, all of which take a slice of life of young people coming of age, but in the cusp of a dying culture, with a new order and new responsibilities baring down on them. Here it's the prep and prom culture of New York's Upper East Side, sometime in the 70's. The participants dutifully go through the rights of Christmas Balls and 'orgy' week, act sophisticated, and generally do things and say things which are expected of them. An outsider, Tom, with radical social and intellectual ideas, enters their midst and becomes a catalyst of change here as a romance develops with Audrey. Tom, idealistic, insensitive and naive is embraced by Audrey, emotionally more mature but more vulnerable, accepting his sometimes preposterous social and literary speculation as a sign of substance in comparison to the increasingly jaded and cynical world of her preppy friends. A friendship develops also between Tom and Nick, the most cynical and pessimistic, but also the most aware and responsible, of the group. The conversations are lively and filled with insights into character and maturity. Nothing much happens in this film, but the intricate interplay of characters, dialogue and ambiance make for a fascinating and penetrating look at these young people's lives. It unfolds like a ballet. This is a fine film which doesn't rely on angst or melodrama-- and maintains a humor, poignancy and charm which makes it a rare achievement for the genre. Stillman's other two films in the trilogy are also highly recommended.
This film is a brilliant talkfest, with the decline of the New York WASP
social setting a major point. It's set on a couple weeks during the
Christmas season, with Tom Townsend being invited to a party, much by
chance, by Nick and his friends. He doesn't "belong", but everyone likes
him, some more than others. He does seem rather odd, with his socialist
ideas, and his anti-party attitude. What develops is an odd relationship
between Tom and Nick, as well as between Tom and a girl named
Christopher Eigmann, as Nick, is a stand out in this cast. He is cynical, pessimistic, yet probably the smartest one in the group. He spouts of dialogue with conviction and care.
What makes this film work is the slight sadness we feel at the disintegration of this class, without having ever been part of it.
Some people will find it boring. It doesn't have the prerequisite number of explosions for the action fans, and not much does happen. But the way this film is executed, where dialogue is the key, makes this film one of the ten best of 1990.
I saw "Metropolitan" a couple of months ago, was fairly impressed with it on its own talky, cerebral terms, and took it back to the video store. Since then, it's grown on me to the point where I have to place its script up there with the best of Chekhov and "The Big Chill." Concerning the Manhattan prep and deb season of some unspecified year past, "Metropolitan" transports your mind into a social order that exists just beyond our consciousness: where young socialites discuss Fourier without conviction, Jane Austen without having read her work, and love without never having really been in it. It's sweet, smart and touching all at the same time. The characters are flawed and doomed -- though, as one character notes, not doomed to failure, but just doomed to a normal, boring lifestyle -- and we can't help but love them for it. Go to Blockbuster and rent it tonight; if you can't find it there, go to Amazon, order it, and allow 1-2 weeks for delivery. It's that good. This was Whit Stillman's first of three similarly themed films; the second, "Barcelona," is subpar, but "The Last Days of Disco" closes the trilogy with a delicious return to form.
I can say this film has staying power as I've seen it about half a dozen
times in the 12 years since it came out; the most recent occasion was a week
ago, and it still holds up, like a great play. It's all in the dialogue and
acting: Stillman's idea of an action scene is someone opening a champagne
bottle a little over-enthusiastically.
The characters are beautifully drawn, none of them perfect, none of them without some redeeming features. They seem very believable to an outsider from England. The dialogue is a never-ending delight, full of great one-liners, yes, but also some equally cherishable, marvellously pompous sermonising and theorising from these slightly preposterous yet strangely loveable people (particularly Charlie Black). It's not exactly a comedy, but I laughed out loud a lot more than I have in some films that have been trying desperately hard to make me titter.
For me the great mystery is this: whatever happened to this fine young cast?? Edward Clements has done virtually nothing since this film, ditto Carolyn Farina (apart from a small part in Age of Innocence); likewise Eigeman and Nichols, although the former seems to have racked up a few more credits, and the latter was in Boiler Room, although I didn't realise it was him until the credits rolled.
If you need action and plot, this film probably isn't for you. But anyone else can dive in and and enjoy a genuinely independent film that shows what can be done on limited resources. This film is worth more in my heart than the combined works of Joel Schumacher, Don Simpson and their tiresome, overblown ilk.
A wonderful, marvelous, funny movie that I watch at least once a year. A true gem-the writing is great, the cast is perfect, and the arch, somewhat affected performances more than do the trick-that's who these people are! Arch, affected, wanna be know it all rich kid snobs whose currency in life is their intellect and class standing. The fact that the action takes place in a few small apartments only heightens the genius of this film-these locations represent the small world in which these young people's lives intersect, in how they dole out their verbiage, how much belonging to a small group of people can dictate the every day thoughts of each member of the gang. The kids have not yet lived enough to be fully forming the opinions they insist upon shoving down each others throats, and the comedy comes from their own inexperience and total lack of thinking other wise. This is like a high brow Breakfast Club, smarter and much more fun for those of us not into stereotype titillation. With out a doubt on of my favorites.
Centering on the lives of wealthy, well-educated young women "coming out" as debutantes and on the equally wealthy, well-educated young men who attend deb parties as the girls' escorts, Whit Stillman's feature directing debut sparkles with incredible dialogue that always wavers between savage wit and heartfelt poignancy. Few who have seen the picture will forget its hilarious dissections of New York social classes, its elegant sense of vocabulary, or its caustic self-awareness. The thing I enjoy the most about Metropolitan (and the two subsequent films Stillman has made), however, is the verisimilitude with which the characters are rendered. I grew up far from the money and privilege of Metropolitan's inhabitants, but I could so easily relate to their fears, desires, and insecurities -- because Stillman never forgets to keep these kids human.
The film is compelling not because of a riveting story, special effects, or
manufactured suspense, but because of sharply written characters whose
personalities drive the story, rather than vice versa, extensive knowledge
of its subject, and beautifully written dialogue.
The dialogue, by the way, is great not only for its intelligence and wit, but also because it instantly identifies a proudly unique writer. We can tell Mamet, because of his fractured phrases and rhythmic line readings. We know Smith because of his rapid-fire, fiery and profane writing, as well as his sensitivity. Tarantino is recognizable because of his pop-culture references. Whit Stillman writes characters who talk, often defiantly, in complete sentences, and say exactly what they mean, whether they're expressing their emotions, or shooting to kill.
Whit Stillman was nominated for an Academy Award for his screenplay for "Metropolitan" in 1991, and with "Barcelona" and "The Last Days of Disco", he's on a winning streak.
After reviewing some of the comments written by other contributors I felt I
needed to clarify some issues raised.
This was an independently produced film made with relatively unknown actors and a limited budget.
That being said, the writing is a cut above most films put out to the public and the art direction (utilizing real apartments and settings) captures nicely the buffered world of New York City's Upper East Side.
The acting style though it may appear to be arch and affected actually captures quite well the voice patterns and intonations of those people it portrays.
The film is truly a small gem. The audience gets a glimpse into the lives of a privileged set of college aged "preppy" Manhattan-ites. Lots of fun music helps keep the scenes jaunty and most of the actors are well cast.
The film while intellectual in bent, plays most of the scenes decidedly tongue in cheek which keeps the movie from feeling pretentious.
The movie is a baby Hannah and Her Sisters if you will. I also enjoyed the director/writer's two other films to date, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco.
METROPOLITAN has really aged well - I first saw this when it was
released, and watching again a few days ago, it really stands up as
something unique. Episodic and without much real plot - the only real
forward motion in the film is to be found in the ending, which feels a
little contrived, and is my only real gripe with this film.
At my first viewing, I didn't really want to like these characters, who all seem from another world - rich, young and good looking, carrying on through elaborate, banal, pseudo-intellectual conversations with a deadly confidence about their place in the world. But over the course of the film it becomes apparent that their secure perch in the upper echelons of the American elite isn't 100% set in stone, as an outsider is able to penetrate this rarefied universe, and manages to hold his own quite well, arousing suspicions (and battling shame over his own proletarian roots, and his battle between his own free-thinking idealism and his aggressive social climbing ambitions), but also making genuine friends among the cute young blue-bloods. Of course he isn't as smart as he thinks he is, and neither is anyone else in here, and they all know it even when behaving otherwise, which greatly humanizes these otherwise not-exactly-pleasant characters. On the strength of the dialog, METROPOLITAN has become something of a cult classic, and deservedly so.
In a strange way, METROPOLITAN is almost a companion piece to the surreal and disturbing documentary GREY GARDENS - both are centered upon characters from the well-bred, wealthy elite of American old-$ society. As METROPOLITAN insinuated that the security, intellect, status and wealth of its' characters isn't as rock-solid as the characters would like everyone to think, GREY GARDENS illustrates, in lurid detail just how psychologically destabilizing a precipitous fall from such a lofty, but artificial world would be - you could easily see an aged variant of one of METROPOLITAN's character's ending up like the Edies from GREY GARDENS.
The probable best from the very non-prolific Stilman, I strongly recommend.
This movie is very close to my heart. Every time I watch it, I lose touch
with any bitterness and cynicism that may reside within me. It turns me
a complete sap. I just love every character. I love the scene with Tom and
Charlie in the bar talking with the older version of themselves. I love
they find the panties on the lawn of Rick Von Sloneker's beach house.
Although this and Stillman's other films are often described as 'Woody
Allen-lite', I think they have more heart than Allen's
I read somewhere that Whit Stillman said he was going to stop making films about these sort of people after 'The Last Days Of Disco'. I pray it isn't so. Then again, a Whit Stillman action film is something I would definitely pay money to see.
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