Whit Stillman’s second film is very much in keeping with his first, Metropolitan (1990). The dry, deadpan humor is the same. The obsession with a lifestyle and worldview that had ceased to exist before the characters even knew it firsthand is still there. In fact, two of the main actors here — Taylor Nichols and Chris Eigemen — are also in Metropolitan. The biggest change is the Barcelona location, which gives the film a more expansive feeling than the insular one provided by Manhattan in the first film. It makes little difference, however, because our heroes — Ted Boynton (Taylor Nichols) and his cousin Fred (Chris Eigeman) — carry their insularity with them. In a sense, you can view them as the over-privileged preppies from Metropolitan thrust into the real world. Their somewhat arrogant, outmoded notions still provide the foundation for their basic guidelines. Ted is a representative for a U.S. firm, while Fred — who drops in on him unannounced and takes up residence — is a Navy officer in Barcelona doing PR work in advance of the arrival of a deluge of American sailors.
It occurs to no one (other than Ted) that Fred, supercilious and defensive, is probably the worst possible choice for such an assignment. It doesn’t help that the locals have some extremely clichéd and negative ideas of Americans — something that Fred’s basic arrogance can only worsen. In the real world, this would be a recipe for disaster, but in Stillman’s world it mostly (mostly, mind you) leads to comedy. Stillman is clearly aware that these boys are too satisfied with themselves — too wrapped up in their ideas and sense of entitlement. Yet he also allows himself to like them, while letting their frequently foolish actions speak for themselves. It makes for an entertaining, enjoyable experience — one that can lead to some surprisingly deep discussions after the fact.
The Asheville Film Society will screen Barcelona Tuesday, June 18, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.