Whit Stillman/USA/1990/ 98 mins
Available on Blu-ray Mon 7 May 2018
There is something inevitably charming in the idea of a group of teenagers mimicking the life of their parents at debutante balls and then playing truth-or-dare during afterparties. There is something exhilarating yet tender about a teenage boy in a tuxedo, wearing glasses and obnoxiously turning any topic of conversation into a philosophical lecture. And there is something very special about a movie that combines brilliantly humorous dialogue with subtle anxiety and frustration.
Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) is a boy from the West Side of New York who is invited to join a group of teenagers who belong to what one of them calls UHB – the ‘Upper Haute-Bourgeoise’. Despite the fact that he defines himself as a socialist and claims to be strongly against upper-class conventions and lifestyle, he gladly accepts the invitation to partake in the group’s balls and after-parties. The group of characters make a diverse bunch – starting from the “socialist” Tom to the ruthless and aware Nick (Chris Eigeman), to the pedantic but sweet Charlie (Taylor Nichols), and the Jane Austen lover Audrey (Carolyn Farina).
There isn’t much action in Metropolitan. There are after-parties, games, as well as endless and rather pretentious discussions of philosophy and literature (where it is perfectly legitimate to have an opinion on a book based on its critics’ reviews, as opposed to actually reading the book itself). There are some recurring frustrations in this sort of idyllic, hyper-privileged and over-educated lifestyle that these teenagers live: what is going to be the destiny of their social division? Are the debutante balls – from the dresses and tuxedos to the after-parties – ultimately doomed? Also, as grown-up as they might act, the main characters struggle with teenage romantic frustrations, naturally so: everlasting and unrequited loves fly around all over the place.
Metropolitan is a timeless movie – despite the Nineties film grain and the ball dresses. The social and political undertones of the film – the character’s awareness of the anachronistic quality of their own lifestyle, and that of an entirely different world outside their “UHB” bubble – make it relevant again, 28 years later. With a brilliantly written script, Whit Stillman manages to create a complex film, pervaded by subtle anxiety but rich in humour and nuances. Albeit slightly tedious at times, the script is witty and sophisticated and earned Stillman an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Metropolitan is a delightful and clever independent movie, underscored by cha-cha-cha’s and foxtrots, with a brilliantly sharp script. Stillman skillfully encapsulates the contradictions, anxieties and charm of a certain social division – and of being a teenager.