Whit Stillman’s highly literate, impossibly witty aesthetic came out fully formed, as his 1990 debut feature Metropolitan will attest. It’s a supremely confident work, and not just in its screenplay, where Stillman’s talents have been mainly ascribed. Here’s a low budget film that embraces its inherent limitations and turns them into strengths.
There’s very little dead air in Metropolitan — when Stillman feels a scene has run its course and all the necessary dialogue is out there, he moves on, often eliding time and space in what might seem like a choppy manner. But really, he’s just moving past a lot of unnecessary exposition, allowing the audience to fill in the blanks and making more room for his heightened and hilarious dialogue. Some filmmakers are all about the quiet, in-between moments. Stillman isn’t one of them.
Bringing together a cast of unknowns (many of whom have barely graced the silver screen again), Metropolitan is an unabashed portrait of the Manhattan upper crust, the old moneyed, the debutante class, of which Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) finds himself a reluctant member of. Brought into the fold of a group of intelligent, rich twentysomethings by the brazenly strident Nick Smith (Chris Eigeman, perfecting his signature sardonic manner) and kept there by the bookishly charming Audrey Rouget (Carolyn Farina), self-styled socialist Tom finds his allegiances and ideas being challenged.
Like all Stillman films, Metropolitan is a wonderfully balanced ensemble piece, allowing for a number of richly drawn characters to pass through the spotlight. But it’s Tom and Audrey’s hesitant courtship that gets the most screen time. He’s attracted to her despite her love for Jane Austen, but he’s also pulled in the direction of former flame Serena Slocum (Elizabeth Thompson). Meanwhile, the frustrated and lovelorn Charlie Black (Taylor Nichols) is incensed at Tom’s disregard for Audrey. However, both Tom and Charlie will find themselves on the same page with the emergence of douchey, ponytailed Rick Von Sloneker (Will Kempe).