Metropolitan (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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One of the great American independent films of the 1990s, the surprise hit Metropolitan by writer-director Whit Stillman (Damsels in Distress) is a sparkling comedic chronicle of a middle-class young man’s romantic misadventures in New York City’s debutante society. Stillman’s deft, literate dialogue and hilariously highbrow observations earned this first film an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay. Alongside the wit and sophistication, though, lies a tender tale of adolescent anxiety.
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I love this movie ever since I watched it on TCM a couple of years of ago. I recorded it on my DVR and I have watched it too many times to remember. I love to watch it during Christmas. I'm not from Manhattan, but West Texas. Whitman script and the great delivery by these talented first time actors transports me completely. The movie production is structured like a play. The dialogue is the star of the movie and is some of the best EVER written for a movie. But, this movie is not for everybody. It rewards the careful listener and is meant for multiple viewings. I bought this Blu-Ray for the commentary which is fantastic.
Bad News: The blu-ray transfer is horrible. The picture is full of noise. Looking at the skin of the actors reveals lots of black dots. The movie was filmed in Super 16 MM (and the director himself admits in the commentary that the lighting for many of the scenes was poorly executed) so I don't know if that affected the overall quality of the source material for the Blu-Ray. But, man it is bad. In fact my DVR copy from TCM is better! Please tell Criterion to re-issue this movie into a better Blu-Ray version. It deserves it!
Although one may think that the time period and social circumstances of the characters may make for limited appeal, I believe that most people will be taken in by the storyline and not bother that they did not attend Deb week nor live in a Manhattan apartment.
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The tale is a familiar one (think Brideshead Revisited) where a less privileged outsider finds himself in the world a couple of rungs up the ladder and not entirely comfortable with it. Tom Townsend is a Charles Ryder (single parent home, cash-strapped, doesn't have the right clothes) of the 1980s who purely by the chance of a mix-up with a taxi ends up as part of the Sally Fowler Rat Pack, a group of preppy college students who are doing the rounds of the debutante balls over Christmas in New York.
So was the wait worth it? Yes it was, although I do think that Metropolitan is a bit of a tough nut to crack; it took me a couple of watches to get into the rhythm of it and to latch on to its humour.
Stillman was nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay (and lost out to Ghost! Ha!) and it's easy to see why. I think it has a lot more to recommend it than Woody Allen and the humour is more sophisticated than Allen's which is amusing in itself when you consider that Stillman's concerns are centred on a group of teenagers. Metropolitan is certainly a very chatty film, with characters who are prone to crippling self-examination and also not above introducing new terms to the language (UHB - urban haute bourgeoisie anyone?), however another of Stillman's strengths is creating characters who are very nuanaced rather than galumphing stereotypes.
Stillman did the clever thing of producing a film that was dated when it already came out and it's keenness for the era, particularly evidenced through the girls' clothes, is done with a light hand and isn't at all laboured. Stillman's real triumph is creating a sense of nostalgia in the viewer for the pearls-and-sweaters innocence of this world which he cleverly compounds by having the characters talk about the demise of the world that they are actually inhabiting.
There is an interesting commentary from Stillman where the secrets of making a film for no money at all are revealed. An interesting companion to Metropolitan is the screenplay, contained in a volume with Barcelona. You'll see that a couple of bits were edited out although the consequences remain in the finished product. See if you can work out what they are!
Some of the acting comes off as stilted, especially from the lead actor, but there is enough charm and varoety from the supporting cast to make up for any of these shortcomings.
Criterion's "Tom Jones" was a total dud, too. But, of course, it may all be due to base materials that are in derelict condition.