Metropolitan (Criterion)

Structurally, Metropolitan is a simple comedy of manners, but its execution lends it the timeless aura of Hollywood’s Golden Age.



The spoils of an on-demand society are plentiful, which is why finding out a favorite film is not yet available on DVD can be irritatingly perplexing. An industry capable of putting together a deluxe collector’s edition of Showgirls must be clever enough to finally usher works like Kenneth Branagh’s riveting Hamlet into the digital age—something Warner Home Video has announced it will be doing by the end of the year. Fans of Whit Stillman’s brilliant social comedy Metropolitan have found themselves in a similar bind for more than a decade as well, settling for multiple viewings of the film on deteriorating and poorly recorded video tapes, and holding on to the hope someone would eventually come to their senses and put the movie out on DVD. Fortunately, it is the Criterion Collection—which is amassing an unparalleled library of film art—that rode in to the rescue.
Released in 1990, Metropolitan is the work of a talented bunch of first-timers—cast and crew. Written, produced, and directed by Stillman, the film is the first part of a loosely bundled trilogy which includes the sardonic and quirky Barcelona (1994) and the slightly disjointed Last Days of Disco (1998). Structurally, Metropolitan is a simple comedy of manners, but its execution lends it the timeless aura of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Part of this stems from the budget constraints, as Stillman and others make note of in the film’s mildly engaging, and only, commentary track. Stealing shots here and there in the chilly heart of New York in the winter keeps the film from succumbing to any play-like claustrophobia.
The action, what there is, takes place over the Christmas holidays, during the character’s last year of high school, and in the midst of the debutante season. The misanthropic middle-class Tom (Edward Clements) finds himself swept up into the upper crust of the social elite, and bereft of his trust fund, finds his inclination toward Fourierism butting up against the pull of upward mobility. Part of the charm of Metropolitan is the superb cast of characters, led by Christopher Eigeman as the enigmatic Nick and Taylor Nichols playing the fretful Charlie. Eigeman and Nichols also skillfully carry Barcelona, but here, in their initial screen roles, they help propel the film’s Allenesque vim. While it is Woody Allen’s name most commonly referenced when critics praise Stillman, the director and his cast are confident enough to brush past the influences, even though, like Allen, so much of the dialogue is quotably abundant. This playful and literate sparring helped garner the film a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The characters are wholly likeable, especially the lovelorn Audrey (Carolyn Farina), who becomes smitten with Tom and his semi-obstinate cultural views. The filmmakers pulled off a remarkable feat by creating such a captivating and likable tale of bourgeois youth coming of age.
While Criterion’s release is a fairly low-key one-disc affair, seeing the film with its high-definition transfer is a satisfying experience. Watching it again only reaffirms Metropolitan’s place as one of the finest independent films to emerge from the ’90s.

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