Metropolitan (1990)
November 9, 2022 9:50 PM - Subscribe

In Whit Stillman's first movie, a group of young upper-class Manhattanites are blithely passing through the gala debutante season, when an unusual outsider joins them and stirs them up.

This low budget movie was filmed mostly in the apartments of Stillman's New York friends; it's a film about rich people during the debutante season that didn't have the money to ever show a ball.

All unknown actors at the time; Chris Eigeman is the most notable name in the young cast.

First of a loose trilogy that continues in Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco

Sheila Benson:
Cozying up to “Metropolitan” (Cineplex Beverly Center, AMC Century 14) becomes a real test of toleration: how compassionate are you about the very rich and rather dim? Not at all? Then this romantic comedy of manners, set during a single New York Christmas season of debutante balls and after-parties, may set your teeth grinding.

However, if you bear in mind that its debuting writer-director-producer, Whit Stillman intended “Metropolitan” as very gentle irony, you’re already ahead. After all, he can’t be too stuffy; he subtitled his slice-of-high-life “Doomed. Bourgeois. In Love.” And as it turns out, Stillman’s gift for quiet, scrupulous observation grows on you.

“Metropolitan” is set sometime in the recent past and it is unabashedly autobiographical; roughly 15 years ago Stillman was his outsider-protagonist Tom Townsend locked priggishly in a love-hate relationship with the UHB. UHB? Ah, that’s the title one of the group drawlingly confers on his “doomed” peers: the Urban Haute Bourgeoisie; “More sociologically precise than preppie.”
He has made a film Scott Fitzgerald might have been comfortable with, a film about people covering their own insecurities with a facade of social ease. And he has written wonderful dialogue, words in which the characters discuss ideas and feelings instead of simply marching through plot points as most Hollywood characters do.

Not very much happens in "Metropolitan," and yet everything that happens is felt deeply, because the characters in this movie are still too young to have perfected their defenses against life. They care very deeply about what others think of them, their feelings are easily hurt, their love affairs are really forms of asking for acceptance.
93% on Rotten Tomatoes. Currently streaming on HBOMax.
posted by mark k (4 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I first saw this in my twenties; I'm now in my fifties and it holds up pretty well. My attitude towards some of the specifics has shifted with age, but it was always obvious the most distinctive traits of these kids--their wealth, education, theories about socialism and social class--were meant to be mocked so I'm just chuckling at them in a slightly different way.

One of the things I remembered, and still enjoyed, was the sets of exchanges where Tom discusses the merits of Mansfield Park with Audrey. He's never read it and freely admits it! He's surprised that she thinks that's relevant. The thing should be 100% cringeworthy but at least for me it's softened by watching him try to learn how to be a decent adult, trying on opinions. He does in fact listen to her, read it and decide maybe he was wrong to just trust the reviews.
posted by mark k at 10:06 PM on November 9, 2022 [3 favorites]

One of my faves, and one I can rewatch happily every year or so. Although it was never really marketed as or indeed usually thought of as a Gen-X film, it does have some of the hallmarks of media examinations of my generation, where overeducated people with nothing of great import to think about turn their powers of analysis on to trivia.

Edward Clements plays Tom Townsend, more or less the central character in the ensemble. This was Clements’ debut, and he has a single other credit in his filmography: he plays Young Crewman in Star Trek VI, a year later. I always sort of idly wondered what happened to him. Some of the other cast members have gone on to some degree of fame; others turned up for occasional guest shots on TV shows. He just sort of vanished.

Maybe a decade after I first saw Metropolitan (which I saw at the Bloor Cinema in Toronto), I was on the 126 Christie bus, headed to Christie station, one subway stop west of where the cinema is. I thought to myself, “Wow, that guy across the way has a remarkable resemblance to the actor who played Tom Townsend.” I read later that Clements is now a pastor in Toronto. Huh.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:33 AM on November 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

I came to this after I happened across Barcelona, so I was already well aware of the rhythms and beats of The Whit Stillman Experience. Even so, it always felt like a sort of tryout piece, an anti-sizzle reel that was more about showing that this guy with no actual filmmaking experience could make a movie, so please give him money for a real movie.

Which is to say, I've always thought of it as a remarkable debut but ultimately Stillman's worst movie (which is to say, a solid B overall). I've always wondered how much of that was because of Farina and Clements being outshone so obviously by Eigeman and Nichols.
posted by Etrigan at 7:06 AM on November 10, 2022

$5 more to MeFi for using the fund-ff tag. I'm still adding $5 for another few movie posts with this tag.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:52 AM on November 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

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