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Metropolitan reminds me of my own young adulthood in and around New York in the late 70s and early 80s. Maybe that's why it speaks to me so much. The dialogue is real, as are the characters, and the cinematography is beautiful. New York really does look like that during Christmas. I have seen this movie countless times, and still find something new with each viewing. I bought the screenplay and am looking forward to comparing it with the version on screen. I missed Barcelona, but Last Days of Disco is another example of Whit Stillman's brilliance. I look forward to his next effort.
This movie glistens like a piece of old Belleek. Whether in the subtle
gold of an off the shoulder evening gown, or in the vast expanse of a
deep, plush, ivory colored carpet, nearly every frame shimmers with
champagne like iridescence.
And gold is an apt visual metaphor, particularly when juxtaposed against the black satin of a tuxedo lapel or the wintry Manhattan night scape, for a world seemingly vanishing right before our eyes--a world too sleek, too soigné, too genteel to survive the steam roller of galloping blue-jeaned egalitarianism.
That the denizens of this vanishing breed, as depicted in the film, are themselves, insecure late adolescents, make its departure all the more poignant.
"This is probably the last Deb season..." one of them observes resignedly, "...because of the stock market, the economy, Everything..." Yes, everything...the huge smothering subject that hovers all around the plot itself and from which its characters are only temporarily insulated.
In particular, the focus here is on a group of privileged Eastern Seaboard collegians enjoying the Christmas holidays in a series of Park Avenue, "after dance parties," in which they loll about and ruefully anticipate the disappearance of their youth, their success, and their kind.
That they are one at the same time cerebral, immature, literate, prankish, frightened, polished, well educated but vulnerable and inexperienced, puts them well outside the troglodyte teens that inhabit the deconstructionist zoo in most post 1970 films, (with the exception of a unfortunate and mis-placed "strip poker" sequence which violates the picture's otherwise overall mood.)
Indeed, they seem to exist outside their own time, belonging rather to that group Cecil Beaton dubbed "the smart young things" from the 1920's, in his "The Glass of Fashion." Certainly, one imagines them far more comfortable with Ivor Novello than Mick Jagger. And like many "smart sets" they seem rather a closed corporation.
Until that is, into their number unexpectedly arrives a young man of reduced circumstances, Tom Townsend, (Edward Clements) who by virtue of his sincerity and intelligence, is invited to "sup at their table--on a borrowed pass" so to speak. His romantic misadventures with the beguiling Audrey Rouget(Carolyn Farina)forms the cynosure of the charmingly fragile plot.
Audrey and Tom stand out from the pack, in their earnestess and integrity, though it is assuredly Nick, (Christopher Eigeman) their figurehead and chief quip master who is the groups' un-elected leader. As interpreted by Mr. Eigeman, Nick is the embodiment of the cocktail fueled, cigarette wielding bon vivant--trenchant, self absorbed, far from virtuous, and with a ready verbal arrow that never misses its target. He is George Sander's heir presumptive.
Nick's observations are worth the whole price of admission as they say, whether it be bemoaning the Protestant Reformation, the social climbing Surrealists, or the scarcity of detachable collars.
Since the film's short, bouffant,cocktail dresses and automobiles unmistakably place the film in very late modernity--the Reagan era in fact, and long after the Ray Anthony's Orchestra, top hatted milieu it depicts, we cannot fail to miss the film's core observation--the parallel evanescence of the groups' own social connections, as placed against the simultaneous collapse of civilized life as we once knew it.
As the Christmas season ends, so do the nightly gatherings, and each character is forced to come to terms with impermanence--their own and everything else's. In a melancholy bar scene, an older man warns the youngsters of disappointment ahead, "I'm not destitute but...it's all so mediocre."
That Producer/Director Whit Stillman manages to fuse the personal with the sociological in such and intriguing and entrancing way is a testament to the penetration of his vision.
And, lest we miss the point, he includes a cunning shot of a significant book left on bedside table--none other than Spengler's "Decline of the West."
Brilliantly written. Stillman's first in his trilogy, this sets the standard for the offbeat banter and dialogue of the two films that followed, "Barcelona," and "The Last Days of Disco." Surprisingly great acting, I think, as well--from a cast of, at the time at least, relative no names. As talkfests go, this is a keeper.
What a very different way to look at people...or, what a different group of
characters to focus a movie on would be putting it better. Stillman took
the snobby 'debutants' of upper Manhattan and made a movie about what they
talk about. I personally found 2 kinds of humor in this movie...I laughed
with the characters, and laughed at them. Can a group be this funny and be
serious? It was very intelligent the way this movie had me listening,
listening, laughing...quick cut to another scene and start over again. I
have to admit that the acting was something of a humor in itself, as was the
frayed ending, but all in all a very enjoyable movie.
I wish I could say more about it, but for some reason watching this, 'Barcelona', and 'Last Days of Disco' has left me a little wordless...I wouldn't be surprised to find that every word in the Webster's Dictionary was used between the three. But kudos to Stillman for doing it right.
I guess I have seen three or four hundred 'first films' of young American
directors in the last couple of decades. None has given me such a sense of
euphoria that Metropolitan did. It stands in a very high position in
much neglected and un-nameable genre that presents us with a bunch of
totally unlovable characters and then proceeds to make us love them.
That may have started with La Regle du Jeu, but Stillman handles this so well, he should not blush at the reference.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I though I could familiarize myself with Whit Stillman's oeuvre easily
over the course of a long weekend. I was wrong. After foraging in three
video stores and a library, I had only a copy of Metropolitan to show
for it, which was initially unfortunate for me--I had been gunning for
The Last Day of Disco (that's right: let's blame Yo La Tengo on this
pursuit of mine). I'm not so sure my only finding Metropolitan was such
bad luck: It's a fantastic film and, because I've watched it four times
since Thursday, I probably would have had to return Last Days of Disco
or Barcelona to the video store before watching them anyway.
Nominated for a writing academy award, Metropolitan is a literate and witty film--a comedy of manners not unlike those penned by Wycherly or Wilde--that leaves its audience with a cadre of rich kids during the débutante season one New York winter. Precocious and pretentious and sometimes arrogant, these college-aged lads and lasses are nevertheless incredibly likable and real. They speak of Trilling and Tolstoy and the urban haute- bourgeoisie; they philosophize; they gossip. In other words, they behave like my friends and I did during our undergraduate years (the difference being, of course, these kids are actually part of the urban haute bourgeoisie; my friends and I were plotting their overthrow).
They also fall in love. In a way, there's nothing new in the central affaire d'amour. Audrey loves Tom; Tom loves Serena; Serena doesn't appear to love anyone. It's a triangle whose hypotenuse and legs we all know well, yet Stillman imbues it with a freshness through deft wordplay and real feeling for his characters. As I said, we have all seen this story many times before, but we have not seen it done through words. Tom wins Audrey with wit, intelligence, and a daunting vocabulary; Audrey piques Tom's interest with her adulation of Austen. They fall in love, ultimately, through their conversations, which is, after all, how we all fall in love. There's no meet-cute here and no physical passion. It's not unlike Before Sunrise in that respect. Moreover, Tom and Audrey are really very wonderful people (though Tom has several faults).
I'm making an ensemble piece sound like a love story. Though the tale of Tom and Audrey holds center stage, in terms of the narrative, there are others to encounter and enjoy. Charlie philosophizes about the decline and fall of the UHB and pines for ideals that fell out of fashion after World War I; Nick despises titled aristocracy, believing them to be the scum of the earth; and Rick, a baron, is incredibly slimy, giving credence to Nick's assertion. There are also the women, who, unfortunately, do not leave much of an impression (aside from Audrey, of course).
Metropolitan is also blessed with one of the most realistic representations of New York I've encountered. Like Taxi Driver or After Hours or Manhattan, Metropolitan makes its audience feel like it is walking the streets of the city. It doesn't rely on cheap establishing shots of notable buildings. I really only know the City from the ground and this film's exterior milieu is one I know from my travels. Metropolitan's interiors are also interesting, especially Tom's family's apartment, which is cramped and claustrophobic, befitting his middle class background.
Overall, this film, an exploration of human, group mentality and love, is a very warm, charming gem.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this movie about ten years ago now and it is still on my mind. The
quiet cinematography places it somewhere between film noir and a movie like
'Hanna and her Sisters,' and maybe even with a subdued atmosphere version
of "The Game" (Michael Douglas).
Most people who've lived in a bigger city and went to college and aspired to do more with their lives when young adults will be absorbed by this film. One can relate to one (or more) of the characters, but for me it was removed just enough from my past that I could look at it historically, like a version of what I had been through. It is open to interpretation by the viewer as it goes along, or should I say open to identification with the situation and characters. I was the poor guy in the movie. This is really a psychological drama, with a cruel twist at the end.
The movie was strangely captivating and yet the viewer doesn't know where it's going to go next. This is not because of the setting---it's not some high-adventure action movie---but because of the situational and psychological build-up. The harsh reality scene at the end told it like it is and made what happened in the body of the movie so tragic.
This is a story of youth that has been told in other ways, with very different details but similar psychological plot of deception, friendships, and dealing with the world and one's place in it, a plot here that is tragically quite real to many young men in America today and is under-recognized in movies. In fact this movie is one-of-a-kind as far as I know. It is more of a tragic version of the coming-of-adulthood story in this particular slice of Americana.
I find myself recommending this film to young men who I know as a lesson in life when they appear to be undergoing the same kind of difficulties with relationships and their social life. It provides a needed perspective but not until the end, which drives the point home even more realistically after a lengthy set-up. A quietly stunning film.
This is a gentle subtle film that makes you feel as though you have spent an evening with charming, intelligent dinner companions. It is basically about a series of parties attended by a group of friends during the Christmas season in New York. The dialogue is incredible and led to screenwriting Oscar nomination for Stillman. I think this is best of his films. He is truly a Hollywood radical because he argues for good old fashioned virtues in his movies like friendship and chastity. What could be more revolutionary in todays entertainment climate. Rent this one if you like interesting characters and snappy banter and you will be treated to some laugh out loud zingers and sweet lover story. A winner all round.
While every other social and ethnic group is deemed off-limits to
filmmakers, one remains a target for cheap laughs: Preppies. From
"Animal House" and "Caddyshack" ("the slobs versus the snobs") to John
Hughes and Savage Steve Holland, to more serious fare like "Six Degrees
Of Separation," filmmakers have availed themselves of this last group
of people they can target with a broad brush of easy scorn.
Which is one reason why Whit Stillman's debut film, "Metropolitan," is so refreshing. By taking a more sympathetic, inside look at a group of affluent East Side Manhattanites home from college, Stillman makes a case for an underlying core of goodness beneath the Thurston-and-Lovey veneers.
Making the foray into their world for us is Tom Townsend (Edward Clements), literally and figuratively a red-headed stepchild in this world of privilege, having little money (his big secret, which he guards carefully with the help of mass transit, is that he lives on the West Side) and a defensiveness about his place in high society he manifests by adopting the stance of a disapproving socialist, though in reality he is more than a little too shallow to feel anything that deeply.
The truth of Townsend is immediately obvious to members of an upscale social set that call themselves the Sally Fowler Rat Pack, but they take him in anyway because he knows their world and seems like a good audience. Running the group is Nick Smith, who you can call a snob, as well as sexist, obnoxious, and of late, rather weird. Just don't call him tiresome, or you'll get an argument.
Nick is also a good guy beneath his preppie bluster, a fellow who champions Tom and breaks down Tom's highminded resistance to joining their circle with snarky logic ("You'd rather stay at home and worry about the less fortunate, but has it ever occurred to you you ARE the less fortunate?") He also has real values he honors, sometimes at no small risk to his nose. Chris Eigeman plays him with such panache you understand why Stillman kept using him in his movies; Eigeman's delivery is a thing of wonder, especially with lines that sound a mite too polished for instant expression. He can speak of his stepmother as "a woman of untrammeled malevolence" and make it sound like the most natural phrase in the world.
Another familiar face from Stillman's movies is Taylor Nichols, who plays Charlie Black, who when we first see him is stumbling through an explanation of why he believes in God and you do, too, even if you don't know it, and later on offers his own alternative definition of the preppie elite as the Urban Haute Bourgeoisie, i.e. the UHB. "Is our language so impoverished that we have to resort to acronyms of French phrases?" a woman asks.
Charlie's more of a preppie snob in his dislike for Tom, though as Tom trifles mildly with the affections of a woman in their circle, Audrey Rouget (Carolyn Farina), we understand Charlie's attitude. The movie is most fun as a platform for Eigeman and Nichols' pithy one-liners, and there are many great ones, but the complex relationship between Audrey and Tom is what gives the movie its plot and much of its interest.
It's bizarre how Clements and Farina vanished from the movie scene right after making their accomplished twin debuts. Farina, with her fetching dark eyes and wry, timid smile reminds one of Molly Ringwald at her pre-"Pretty In Pink" peak. Clements is good as a character that guards himself closely, with a scholarly front that falls apart fast.
Pressed on why he doesn't like Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park," Tom admits he hasn't read it, just that he doesn't like it from reading critical essays about it by Lionel Trilling: "I don't read novels. I prefer good literary criticism - that way you get both the novelists' ideas and the critics' thinking." "Metropolitan" is full of quotes like that, the product of young people who think they know more than they do but aren't quite bad beneath their smugness. It's not a film of great depth or revelation; Stillman isn't so interested in dissecting his creations as he is in giving them room to express their ideas, goofy and grand. His first film does exactly that, pulling off the twin feat of having cinematic fun and giving a preppie an even break.
"Metropolitan" is a film that hearkens back to an era of old money and
tradition, reminiscent of the Gilded Age of the late 19th Century in
America. It was a time when men in white bows and tales led girls in
pristine, white dresses to their cotillions in ballrooms in gilded
hotels like the Plaza in New York where some of this film's scenes take
place. The film is a sociological examination of what happens in Park
Avenue grand pied-à terres, with after hours parties frequented by the
American royalty or upper class. The characters are somewhat hollow,
but intellectual in their discussions of 19th century novels and
literary critics. These are the children of the very rich, the haute
bourgeoisie who attended such hallowed institutions as the Chapin
School and Miss Porter's School (Farmington). The characters are fairly
well played by unknown actors and actually, I found them to be one
dimensional but quite convincing.
Carolyn Farina who plays the demure Audrey Rouget is very sweet and you care about her, at least I did. She is self-deprecating and cute and plays this part to the hilt. Her "Rat Pack" of pals like her, though often she fades into the woodwork, as she is very quiet and somewhat shy. Chris Eigeman, who plays the "tiresome" and overbearing Nick Smith is at times, quite entertaining with his hilarious hyper critical attitude and cynicism about those who surround him. Eigeman plays this role quite well and though you don't really like him, he is so obnoxious which makes him fun to watch. His talk of how "detachable collars" on tuxedos and his pretentious wearing of top hats look quite out of place in this early 1990's film. I like the Jane character and the Sally Fowler character played by Dylan Hundley. These two characters exemplify upper class attitudes by their tastes and speech and are in keeping with how preppy, privileged, upper class American girls behave, at least on the East Coast.
Not much happens plotwise in the film. You are almost left wondering whether something of any importance is going to unfold, this film doesn't really go anywhere. One wonders if the director had some message in mind, for those who always look for such things in a movie. I think rather than being a great drama film, it is more of a social commentary on a lost era in the modern world. Most people probably couldn't identify with this film, as its characters are far more privileged than the average person and far more worldly and educated as evidenced by their speech and interests. Other than the world of debutante balls and nightly after hours parties, this film doesn't show much happening.
Despite its somewhat dated context and what some may view as dull plot, "Metropolitan" is one of my all time fave films. I guess I like the pretense of it and its refreshingly other era feel with I feel gives it a certain charm and je ne sais quoi as the French say.
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