Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Film Review: METROPOLITAN (1990, Whit Stillman)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 98 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Chris Eigeman, Taylor Nichols, Carolyn Farina, Will Kempe, Dylan Hundley, Edward Clements.
Tag-lines: "Finally... A film about the downwardly mobile. "
Best one-liner: "I guess you could say it's extremely vulgar... I like it a lot."

"Is our language so impoverished that we have to use acronyms of French phrases to make ourselves understood?" "-Yes." Like some fragile, carefully festooned porcelain ornament long misplaced, METROPOLITAN emerged in 1990, not with a roar, but rather with an eloquent whisper and an arched eyebrow. Whit Stillman's talent, initially misdiagnosed as Woody Allen-esque, was truly, autobiographically, anachronistically (think F. Scott Fitzgerald unstuck in time with a light dose of John Hughes) original, and it paved the way for such wordy American indie auteurs as Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson. METROPOLITAN also heralded the arrival of one of the great underappreciated actors of our time, Christopher Eigeman (BARCELONA, KICKING AND SCREAMING).

The craftsmanship and hilarity of this script cannot be exaggerated. Endlessly quotable, I find myself held rapt by the exquisite dialogue as one might marvel over a ship-in-a-bottle. Needless to say, it's not for everyone, and if a line like "Girls that have been degraded by you don't need the further humiliation of having their names bandied about non-exclusive Park Avenue after-parties!" doesn't appeal to you, then you probably shouldn't be watching this.

The plot is simple, and it unfolds with subtlety and grace: one Christmas vacation, not so long ago, proletarian Fourierist Tom (Edward Clements) is immersed by chance in Manhattan's upper-crust deb world. Gentle, nuanced comedy ensues as he meets the snarky Nick (Eigeman), the tragically naive Charlie (Taylor Nichols), the titled aristocratic tool Von Sloneker (Will Kempe), the melancholy Molly Ringwald-type Audrey (Carolyn Farina), and many others. The film finds true, wry emotive power, however, in its last act, which finds Tom and Charlie cast adrift without their 'id,' Nick, and caught amid a sea of varying premature ideas of failure. An excellent film, and a true silver-tongued jewel in the crown of American independent cinema. Five stars.

-Sean Gill

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