Review No. 389


The Bottom Line: A ho-hum drama speckled rather thankfully with the wit of Whit Stillman.

Directed by: Whit Stillman
Written by: Whit Stillman
Audrey Rouget: Carolyn Farina
Tom Townsend: Edward Clements
Also Starring: Allison Parisi, Chris Eigeman, Dylan Hundley, Taylor Nichols

Distributed by New Line Cinema on August 3, 1990. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 98 minutes. Rated PG-13 by the MPAA (mature themes; infrequent sexual situations).

Metropolitan was watched on January 12, 2013.

“It’s an acronym for ‘urban haute bourgeoisie.'”

Whit Stillman began writing Metropolitan in 1984, while working a part-time job in New York, and didn’t finish until 1988. In order to finance the film, he committed to selling his apartment for $50,000, and spreading the word among family and friends who were willing to finance. The budget ultimately added up to a minimal $225,000.

It’s ironic that such an independent approach to filmmaking centers on those who could just as easily hire some to write the script, and shell the money right out of their pockets, all in less than a week. Our story is an interesting one, offering subtle humor we’re not used to. But when it tries to progress with a malnourished structure, it begins to fall apart.

Starting off, Metropolitan is a delight. The appreciation for humor of poor manner is quite welcome, especially when among the “rich snobs.” We’re almost invited into the lifestyle, with lively exaggeration, music, et al. This is of a style known as “comedy of manners,” featuring depictions of an all too outwardly wealthy lifestyle, and how it changes when encountered by a middle-class fellow.

Then the humor begins to fade. The film can’t rely on it completely. And so it reveals itself behind the mask, a drama with humor polka dotted in spontaneous patterns.

Metropolitan could have been great, had it stuck with its much-needed initial façade. There isn’t much to everything else about it, just a tale of several upper-class snobs competing perpetually to decide who can complain the most. They’re all hypocrites whose inability to discern what is politically correct makes them both well-developed and obnoxious.

I don’t see a problem with detestable characters with nothing agreeable or so much as rational to say. But when they populate the film so vastly, it’s a bit easy to forget about the shy protagonist who changes them all in the end.

Revisiting the polka dot analogy. Metropolitan features polka dots of comedy not just spontaneously, but colorfully and largely. It’s difficult to miss such moments of slyly crafted, brightly manipulated “Whit.” When juxtaposed with the rather bleak melodrama, they’re golden, just enough to justify a recommendation.