Metropolitan (1990, Whit Stillman)

It’s debutante season (Katy had to explain to me what that is) in Manhattan, so a group of friends home from college for the holidays get dressed up and hang out every night, mostly just the seven of them – but they pick up a “downwardly mobile” red-haired outsider named Tom early in the season and rope him into joining them for the whole two weeks of party games, dancing, jealousy and highly literate conversation.

Tom claims to be too much of a radical socialist to participate in such old-fashioned upper-class nonsense, but is easily enough convinced to buy a secondhand tuxedo and join in, especially when he finds out his ex-girlfriend Serena is a friend of the group. Molly Ringwald-looking Audrey crushes on Tom, while Charlie (a more intellectual Max Fischer) crushes on Audrey – as the others fade away over the second week, these three will remain from the core group.

Sally is the group’s host, who ends up with a gross record producer, Cynthia an easily-annoyed argument-baiter, Fred a tired guy who drinks too much then decides the group’s no fun anymore once he sobers up, and Nick the self-aggrandizing center of attention until he returns to school early. Nick’s at war with ladies’ man Rick who is currently dating Tom’s ex. Oh and there’s Jane, whom I already can’t remember.

After Tom hurts Audrey’s feelings pining after his ex, Audrey and Cynthia disappear to Rick’s house. Charlie and Tom are concerned enough for her welfare that they take a two-hour cab ride to rescue her. Audrey seems to be in no danger, but every girl likes to be rescued, so she goes with them, walking back to Manhattan talking vaguely about their futures. I kinda loved the movie, and especially the ending.

Beaten by Ghost for the screenplay oscar, Chameleon Street for best picture at sundance, and To Sleep With Anger (fair enough) for indy awards screenplay. Looks like half the cast appears in Last Days of Disco. Audrey (Carolyn Farina) was in The Age of Innocence as a relative (sister?) of Daniel Day-Lewis. Nick (Chris Eigeman) in a bunch of indie movies including Kicking and Screaming. Cynthia (Isabel Gillies) is billed just under David Lynch in the Nadja cast and Charlie (Taylor Nichols) appeared in Jurassic Park III.

L. Sante:

The dialogue is ostentatiously written; every character wields subordinate clauses and uses words like however and nevertheless. The combination of stilted speeches and deft behavioral acting sometimes seems peculiar, but it is also peculiarly apposite. Like Austen, Stillman wears his irony lightly and deploys it affectionately.

Urban haute bourgeoisie… is a term coined by Charlie, who is obsessed with the ongoing failure and imminent doom of his class. Stillman obviously thinks something of the sort himself—the movie’s title is subtle in its archly irrelevant grandeur, but you wonder if Twilight of the Gods didn’t cross his mind. (At one point, Tom’s bedside book is shown to be Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West.)

Speaking of the low-budget resourcefulness of the movie’s production, Sante says “a picture about the rites of passage of the urban haute bourgeoisie might be expected to appear as impeccably composed as The Earrings of Madame de…“. Having just watched that film, I thought of it in a different respect. At the beginning of both movies, as we’re being introduced to the characters I groan inwardly: not another movie that expects me to care about the minor problems of privileged rich people. At the end of Madame de… the minor problems have become major and I still don’t care (actually I came to respect General Charles Boyer somewhat), but Metropolitan made me love its overeducated rich-kid protagonists.

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