Metropolitan (1990 film) Criterion Collection

In the early 1990s, independant movies started moving out of art house theatres and into the multiplexes, and directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez became as well known as Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder. Whit Stillman never received the rock star accolades that were lavished on some of his contemporaries. To this day, his name is spoken only by those in the know; like a password to the most exclusive club in town. It’s a place where the drinks and conversation flow freely. It’s like a Fred Astaire movie come to life: everyone is dressed to the nines, and they cha-cha unironically.

Metropolitan was filmed in 1989, and released in 1990; it’s about the early 1970s, but looks like the early 1980s. Got that? Good. It’s a somewhat autobiographical film, but the budget was limited, and needs must. The story revolves around the members of the Sally Fowler Rat Pack, (SFRP) but Sally Fowler (Dylan Hundley) is not the leader of the pack, nor is she the focus of the movie. The group is so-named because they usually gather in the Upper East Side apartment belonging to her parents. The de facto leader is Nick Smith, (Chris Eigeman) a young man who has an opinion on every subject, and is willing to share it, no matter if anyone wants to hear it. It’s easy, upon first viewing, to paint Nick as a class-A-hole, but he is not a bad guy.

If Metropolitan were a John Hughes movie, almost all of the characters would be a villain; the obvious exceptions being Audrey Rouget, (Carolyn Farina) and Tom Townsend (Edward Clements). Audrey attends school in Grenoble, loves the novels of Jane Austen, and is an all-around kind person. In other words: a Molly Ringwald type. I haven’t quite figured out who would play Tom in the John Hughes version of Metropolitan–maybe John Cusack.

Tom is the entry point for the audience. Upon leaving a debutante ball, Nick hails a cab, and mistakenly thinks that Tom was there first. To avoid hard feelings, Nick invites Tom to the SFRP after party. Tom only attended the ball out of curiosity, because they are not his sort of thing. He has the pedigree of the other attendees, but has limited resources due to his parents divorce.

Charile Black (Taylor Nichols) is sort of the philosopher of the SFRP. He thinks they are all doomed to failure, since no one from their social class has gone on to do anything worthwhile or noteworthy. He doen’t like the term “preppy,” because it doesn’t suit a man like Averell Harriman, who is in his seventies. Charie invents the term Urban Haute Bougeoisie (UHB, for short) to decribe those in their social strata. And of course Nick pronounces it as one word: “uhb.”

Rounding out the SFRP are: Jane Clark, (Allison Parisi) who is Audrey’s best friend, and possibly the most sensible of the group. Cynthia McLean (Isabel Gillies) is Sally’s best friend, and in a lesser movie would be the “dumb” one. And finally, there’s Fred Neff, (Bryan Leder) who is usually passed out drunk, but is a nice guy.

Metropolitan is somewhat similar to the films of Wes Anderson in that the world in which the characters reside is ultra-specific and unfamiliar to most of the audience. The difference is that Whit Stillman’s characters could exist in the real world, and may have, in one form or another. The land of debutante balls seems like it is from a bygone era–even in the 1970s. The balls still go on today, but they are probably for one percent of the much hated “1%.”

It seems that even the uppercrust stereotype other members of their class. Nick has a dislike for titled aristocracy, especially Rick Von Sloneker (Will Kempe). Rick is some sort of baron, but with that ponytail, he looks like every other waiter in a fancy restaurant in the 80s. Rick is an asshole, to be sure. He is definitely a bully, for he is always shadowed by his right hand man, Victor Lemley, (Stephen Uys) because bullies never travel alone. That being said, he may not be guilty of the offenses Nick claims. And of course, Rick would be played by James Spader in my John Hughes analogy.

As for a Kevin Smith comparison, both Metropolitan and Clerks were self-financed projects, whose casts were made up of actors appearing for the first time in a movie. There is no real plot to either film–just a lot of talking. That’s okay with me. I like hyper-verbal films, as long as they have something to say, and the characters are interesting. I have more in common with Clerks, but Metropolitan lets me see how the other half lives (or lived). Well, maybe not half. It’s more like one percent of the 1%.

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