Review by Gordon Justesen
Farina, Edward Clements, Taylor Nichols, Christopher Eigeman, Allison Rutledge-Parisi,
Dylan Hundley, Isabel Gillies, Bryan Leder, Will Kempe, Elizabeth Thompson
Director: Whit Stillman
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Features: See Review
Length: 99 Minutes
Release Date: July 24, 2012
“It's a tiny bit arrogant of people to go around worrying about those less fortunate.”
Writer/director Whit Stillman caught my attention with his 1998 release, The Last Days of Disco. I recognized a few of the actors in the cast, and was very much pulled in by the music of the film. I knew he had two prior films, both focusing on the yuppie society, so with the new Blu-ray release of Metropolitan (his first film), I was curious enough to see how Stillman got started as a filmmaker.
The film was released in 1990, when the yuppie culture was still pretty much fresh in everyone’s mind. Unfortunately (and the fault may lie with me on this matter), it’s too little too late for me to fully relate to this film. I suppose it also doesn’t help me that I had seen American Psycho so many, many times before seeing this film, and it’s satirical edge regarding snobbish NYC yuppies had already made quite an impact on me, in addition to Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.
It was perhaps the first film of it’s kind to take a deep look into the personalities of businessmen and women in their early twenties. I was 11 at the time this film was released, so this subject matter definitely wouldn’t have interested me then. And now that the yuppie culture is a thing of the past, it’s simply too difficult for me to get interested in a film where such characters are just chatting and chatting and chatting.
By now, you’re probably thinking why I gave Stillman a pass two films later with The Last Days of Disco. In that film, Stillman was capturing both the end of an era and the birth of a new one simultaneously in his reflection on the death of disco and the beginning of the booming New York business culture and the college grads it was luring. Also, the characters in that film had more interesting things to say than in Metropolitan, which I think illustrates that Stillman had improved as a writer as time went on.
What the film boils down to, essentially, is a circle of friends who gather nightly to play bridge and talk social issues in an upper class Manhattan apartment. They include Nick (Christopher Eigeman), a self-described cynic, Charlie (Taylor Nichols), a philosophical type and two females; the all too eager to party Sally (Dylan Hundley) and Audrey (Carolyn Farina), who’s close friend, Serena (Elizabeth Thompson) is the secret target of affection for the newest member to this circle of friends. That would be Tom (Edward Clements), who up until now has been on the outskirts of this sort of young society.
As you can guess, the main story outside the constant social talk is will Tom have the courage to confront Serena and confess his feelings for her. Especially since Serena may have the same feelings for him. Both are friends with Audrey, and both engaged in a romantic letter-writing fling back at college.
It’s very clear that with this first feature, Stillman was aiming to be something of a Woody Allen for a younger generation, which he showed to good effect in Last Days of Disco. Here, though, the talky aspect of Woody is there but there’s nothing to become engaged about. With Woody’s films, you always felt immersed in the conversations from beginning to end.
Again, this is probably a matter of bad timing on my part. The film won a great amount of acclaim from the critic community, and it very much put Stillman on the map. Perhaps if I was of the age of these characters in the early 90s, and was able to relate to them more (then again I don’t think the yuppie scene would’ve been my taste), then I would’ve had something to appreciate here.
Stillman did go on to make Barcelona in 1994 and Last Days of Disco in 1998, which completed his romantic yuppie trilogy. I wondered if he would ever make another film again, which he did recently with the much praised Damsels in Distress. I do indeed look forward to seeing that one soon.
The low budget aesthetics of this film definitely do show, as it was shot on a super-16 camera. But this Criterion Blu-ray release does make the absolute most of it. The NYC backdrop does carry a most authentic feel, do in large part to the cinematography, and the HD picture enhances the low budget elements in just the right ways. Grain is left in where it needs to be, and the over-abundance of digital noise is nowhere to be found. Again, not one to show off to your friends on an HDTV, but at the same time about as perfect as it can get in the Criterion fashion.
An inde talky feature from the early 90s is going to result in astounding digital audio, and Criterion knows this. But the mono track provided does all it needs to do here, which is simply capture spoken dialogue fluently, which it does. This is pretty much the equivalent of a Woody Allen movie from the same time period released on this very same format.
This Criterion Blu-ray contains all the supplements from the original DVD release from 2006, which includes a commentary with Whit Stillman, editor Christopher Tellefsen and actors Christopher Eigeman and Taylor Nichols, as well as ten minutes worth of Rare Outtakes and Alternate Casting sessions with commentary by Stillman and the Original Theatrical Trailer.
To top it off, there’s a classy insert booklet featuring an essay by author Luc Sante.
I’m still a bit baffled as to why Metropolitan couldn’t engage me the way Stillman’s later work managed to. It’s extremely rare that I’m not on the same page with critics when it comes to acclaimed films of this type, but the impossible definitely happened this time!