Indie Classics: Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan
Whit Stillman’s first feature film, Metropolitan, follows outsider Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) as he makes his rounds of the Christmas-break Manhattan debutante gala circuit as an escort. Initially skeptical and disdainful of the whole “UHB” or “Urban Haute Bourgeoisie” scene, Tom slowly becomes an integral part of a circle of privileged, preppy friends after being taken under the wing of the opinionated, abrasive Nick Smith (Chris Eigeman). The group enjoys playing bridge and engaging in intellectual conversation (along with drinking, smoking, and the occasional game of strip poker). Although serving as an escort to well-read, sensitive, Jane Austen-loving Audrey (Carolyn Farina), Tom is clearly still hung up on his fickle ex-girlfriend Serena Slocum (Ellia Thompson). As a Fourier-style socialist and a young man of fairly limited means, Tom is never quite at home in his new environment throughout this film which lightly pokes fun at Manhattan’s young elite.
As a whole, I found Metropolitan to be a bit dry and stilted despite a few funny lines and redeeming moments. The characters were generally flat and undeveloped, relying predominantly on one single trait or quirk that kept recurring again and again. For example, Audrey is given no identifiable traits other than her adamant love of Austen and Mansfield Park and Tom has no principle other than his belief in Fourier’s beliefs. Although one of the characters is constantly complaining that there have been no true representations of the preppy class, the film seemed to me to be just another unrealistic portrayal. The dialogue between the characters, for the most part, was pretentious and sounded forced/over-thought-out/over-scripted. The fact that the teenage characters have consistent super-intellectual discussions where everyone gets all of the references did not seem realistic or natural. And finally, the style of the film and the camerawork seemed fairly conventional and did nothing to break up the dryness in the story or characters. One of the few moments I truly enjoyed, which actually felt real to me, was when the group is playing strip poker and Nick states, “Playing strip poker with an exhibitionist somehow takes the challenge away.”
So I guess at this point in the blog, it should come as no surprise that I did not like the film and would not highly recommend it to any friends based on my experience. In my opinion, it would have been alright had it been a 30-minute short rather than a feature film. I would only recommend seeing Metropolitan if you are a particularly huge fan of Whit Stillman or if you are in the process of watching every notable indie film ever. That being said, I do see it as a film that has some appeal and can see how other people could have a very opposite opinion of it so I think it does have a rightful place in a list of important indie films. It’s not a bad film, but it’s not my cup of tea either.