Metropolitan (1990)

Director: Whit Stillman
Writer: Whit Stillman
Cast: Carolyn Farina, Edward Clements, Chris Eigeman, Taylor Nichols, Allison Parisi, Dylan Hundley, Isabel Gillies, Bryan Leder, Will Kempe, Ellia Thompson
Seen on: 31.12.2021

It is just before Christmas and the young people of the upper class are in a party mood. On one of their outings, charismatic Nick (Chris Eigeman) just sweeps along Tom (Edward Clements) when he believes that they called for the same cab. Tom used to run in the same circles, but after his parents divorced, he doesn’t have the ressources anymore. Instead he turned to socialist politics. But surrounded by the riches, and learning that the group knows his ex-girlfriend Serena (Ellia Thompson), Tom is enticed to stay. Meanwhile, the group – above all Audrey (Carolyn Farina) – are quite affected by his presence.

Metropolitan is a witty film that takes a look at a very specific class that has been almost mythologized, and shows us that they are still only teenagers. There is room for criticism of that class, but it does take a backseat to the characters.

The film poster showing a drawing of five people in formal wear, three young women in white dresses and two young men in smokings.

Metropolitan is Stillman’s debut feature and it is far from as polished and perfect as his latest, Love & Friendship. But the roots of what made Love & Friendship so strong are here already: the wonderfully witty dialogues, fired off at a rapid pace, and the excellent character work. This is a film where people are constantly talking and barely breathing, and they talk about everything – politics, love, themselves, rumors, philosophy…

Through those dialogues, the characters come to live and receive a very definitive shape. You know exactly who those people are. And they are very real, in all their idealism, and their cruelties, their sense of humor, and their hurt. In short, they are teenagers, albeit extremely privileged ones (contrast this with Gossip Girl, set in the same social circle, albeit 15 years later – there we have idealizations, dreams and fantasies instead of people). And while their class may lead them to discuss obscure socialists and Jane Austen instead of, say, the 90s equivalent of Marvel movies and Twilight, their privilege can’t make them any more adult.

Jane (Allison Parisi) and Nick (Chris Eigeman) sitting next to each other.

As I said, there is a certain room for criticism in the film: the way all these kids are alone, for example, drifting from party to party with never an adult in sight. The way Tom has to struggle to have the right clothes to fit in, and the way he was dropped by his own father. The general excess and privilege. The often a little vapid discussions. But really, that criticism is almost incidental and probably comes more from my own perspective on the film than the film itself. Even Tom, who seems to bring the critical outsider’s perspective at first, is quickly revealed not only to be not that far away from that social circle in the first place, but also a willing participant in the parties.

Still, there is a charm to Metropolitan and its characters that makes it quite enjoyable. It’s just not a favorite like I hoped it would be just based on the strength of Love & Friendship.

Jane (Allison Parisi) and Tom (Edward Clements) sitting next to each other.

Summarizing: more promising than already good.

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