Movie Information

In Brief: Dry humor is the order of the day in Whit Stillman's first film, Metropolitan — well, dry humor and a vein of deep sadness. It's basically nothing more than dropping in on a group of downwardly mobile upper-class young adults (with one readily accepted interloper) as they go through the motions of carrying on lifestyles and traditions from an earlier time. It's very funny, but it has a bite — and is a little too true to be wholly comfortable, which is also the film's great strength.
Genre: Comedy Drama
Director: Whit Stillman (Damsels in Distress)
Starring: Carolyn Farina, Edward Clements, Taylor Nichols, Christopher Eigeman
Rated: PG-13

Last year, Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress came to town — and had quite a little impact of the more polarizing kind. People either loved it or hated it. Walk-outs were not uncommon, and I was on the receiving end of some pretty stern mail for having recommended the film. It also ended up in the No. 7 slot on my Ten Best list, and the No. 5 slot on Justin Souther’s list. In all honesty, I don’t personally know anyone who didn’t love it — which may say more about the people I know than the film. Anyway, Damsels was my introduction to Stillman’s slender filmography (he’s only made four movies in more than 20 years), and set me on the path to see the others. So here’s Stillman’s first film — the largely autobiographical Metropolitan (1990) — and it’s clearly the work of the same sensibility that created Damsels in Distress. It’s also a film that calls to mind the days when low-budget indies were being made by people with a basic understanding of filmmaking and lighting (or the intelligence to hire people who were). You won’t find any poorly-lit lazy compositions or shaky-cam stuff here.

What you will find is a delightfully dry comedy — with deeply felt undercurrents of sadness — about a group of upscale young people striking poses, talking a lot of faux intellectual (but well-spoken) nonsense, and trying to hold on to notions of sophistication and decorum that were dead or dying before they were even born. All end-of-an-era stories inherently contain elements of sadness that cling to the passing of an age, but Metropolitan ups the ante by being about these already out-of-time characters living an already past fantasy with a mix of phony bluster and a sense of doom. (As it turns out, even doom may be out of their reach, with mediocrity a more likely fate.) The Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) character is something of an interloper, since he’s already one of the “downwardly mobile,” whose life and fortunes have taken a turn for the worse with his parents’ divorce. (Tom is Stillman’s onscreen alter-ego, and many of the events — his father avoiding him, the loss of a trust fund, his childhood toys ending up thrown out in a box on the street in front of his father’s apartment building — are true to life.) The other characters are waiting their turns for some similar fate — or so they think. It’s bitterly funny, strangely moving and, finally, a little bit uplifting. But only a little bit.

The Asheville Film Society will screen Metropolitan Tuesday, Feb. 19 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.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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11 thoughts on “Metropolitan

  1. Ken Hanke

    Thanks. I believe Mr. Souther bought a copy off you during the big TV Eye sell off, which might be easier, since you and I don’t cross paths too often it seems.

  2. Chris

    Last Days of Disco is also a Criterion title but i don’t think its as good as Metropolitan, i still need to see Barcelona though that’s the only one of his films i haven’t seen. If you like Whit Stillman’s films i would also recommended Kicking and Screaming.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Barcelona appears to be available only on WB Archive, which is where I got it. I am hesitant about Kicking and Screaming because Baumbach without Wes Anderson doesn’t tend to be very appealing to me.

  4. Xanadon't

    Okay, it’s still driving me crazy. Are certain segments of the musical score from Metropolitan very nearly echoed in one of Woody Allen’s (I’m thinking more recent) films? The kinda bouncy, comic bit that plays during the strip poker scene, among others.

  5. Ken Hanke

    I know what you mean and…I’m not sure. It certainly sounds familiar.

  6. Xanadon't

    It’s been suggested to me that I may be hearing it in the “transition music” of some television series or another. But since my exposure to television is incredibly limited, I doubt that’s it. And you saying it’s familiar puts me further off the idea. Hmmm…

  7. Ken Hanke

    I don’t think this is it, but it finally strikes me that it sounds a lot like some of the score (I suspect it’s by Ken Thorne) for The Bed-Sitting Room.

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