Preppies at Love and War: 'Metropolitan'

Despite the fact that Metropolitan features a cast of unknowns (who have remained unknown), I cannot think of a more likable young cast in any film.


Director: Whit Stillman
Cast: Edward Clements, Carolyn Farina, Chris Eigeman
Distributor: Criterion
Rated: Not Rated
Year: 2012
Release date: 2012-07-24

Set in Manhattan in 1990, Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan is a wonderful artifact from the fin de siècle of the Reagan-Bush era. Tom (Edward Clements) is a ‘west-sider’ who happens to hail a cab at the same time as Sally Fowler’s ‘rat pack’ of debutantes. Since the pack is short one male escort, they invite Tom into their world of deb parties, soirees, and post-party skull sessions.

Nick (Chris Eigeman) is the actual leader of the pack, a young man with an opinion on everything. Nick’s cynicism and deadpan humor vies against Tom’s bright idealism. Tom is a self-described “Fourier socialist”, so the pack adopts him as if he were an exotic pet.

Despite the fact that Metropolitan features a cast of unknowns (who have remained unknown), I cannot think of a more likable young cast in any film. Fifteen minutes into Metropolitan, you’re irresistibly drawn into a tight circle of friends: along with Tom and Nick is the sweet and earnest Audrey, who loves Jane Austen. The sharp-tongued Jane has the mature insight to curb Nick and protect Audrey. Charlie is a country club Republican, while Sally and Cynthia are fun loving party girls.

These characters engage in cutting debates on social norms and class identity. Here’s Tom and Nick sparring on the merits of the Christmas Ball:

Nick: So you’re not going to the Christmas Ball…oh I know—you’re opposed to these parties on principle.

Tom: Yes, that’s right.

Nick: One shouldn’t be out eating hors d'oeuvres… you’d rather sit at home and think about the less fortunate.

Tom: What’s wrong with that?

Nick: Did it ever occur to you that you are the less fortunate?

As if channeling Oscar Wilde, Nick keeps the bons mots coming, like when he tries to goad everyone into dancing the Cha-Cha.

Cynthia: The Cha-Cha is ridiculous.

Nick: The Cha-Cha is no more ridiculous than life itself.

Stillman provides an inexhaustible supply of sharp repartee. Tom, always the good sport, sometimes turns the tables on the pack:

Jane: I went to school at Hampshire.

Tom: Did you know Serena Slocum?

Jane: The inevitable question—all the guys ask that. Serena has at least twenty boyfriends, all at different schools. How do you know Serena?

Tom: I’m one of her boyfriends.

Despite the constant verbal sparring, there’s a basic humanity at the core of this film--these young people care deeply for each other and try to protect one another. As Christmas approaches, Tom and Nick walk by the apartment building where Tom’s father lives with his second wife. Nick stops in front of a box of toys left on the sidewalk for the garbage truck.

“Look at this,” Nick exclaims, “an Aurora model kit, a derringer set, stuffed animals—these are the toys of our generation”. Tom blanches and says nothing, and we realize that this box of toys once belonged to him. In the next scene, Tom reveals that his father has left Manhattan and moved to New Mexico.

Tom: I don’t understand why my father didn’t say goodbye.

Nick: You don’t? One word…‘stepmother’.

Stillman is masterful at revealing how important these friendships are. They’re the only buffer to the shocks of entering the adult world, as families disintegrate and childhood is left behind.

Near the end of the film, Tom and Charlie encounter a 30-something yuppie at a bar. Charlie offers his pet theory on the ‘doomed urban haute bourgeoisie’. The yuppie turns into an oracle, revealing to Charlie and Tom a glimpse of their future:

“Doomed would be far easier. I have a good job, it pays well and I’m not destitute. But it’s all so… mediocre. The acid test is: do you take any pleasure in answering the question “What do you do?” I can’t bear it. You expect much better and some of your peers achieve it—you read about them in newspapers and see them on TV. I avoid them whenever I can.“

When the duo drops in on Sally, she’s on her way out, and her date is a man twice her age.

Sally: We can’t keep getting together—it’s not normal.

Tom: I wish someone had told me that before now.

In Vanity Fair, James Walcott writes: “Fewer movies better evoke the vague melancholy of being home between semesters, suspended between graduation and grownup-hood. A cloud of reminiscence hangs over the characters as they’re starting to miss something that hasn’t gone yet. They’re already nostalgic for something that they haven’t quite left behind.”

The Blu-ray version of Metropolitan is an acceptable video transfer—most scenes are sharp and clean, but there’s evident grain near the end of the film. The audio offers a mono soundtrack, but it’s bright and airy. Extras include the director’s commentary and additional scenes with alternate casting.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.