While it may be hard to believe that Larry Clark’s “Kids” just celebrated its twentieth anniversary, it’s not hard to believe that “Metropolitan” is turning twenty-five. Even at the time of its 1990 release, writer/director Whit Stillman’s inaugural feature about New York debutantes and their male escorts seemed to hail from another era. As a carefully worded eulogy for an American social caste, this was its whole point; these protagonists were so anachronistic that their courtships consisted of debates about Jane Austen, whose blithe-as-a-heart-attack formulations of romantic love proved an apt model for the film itself.
Though all of Stillman’s work focuses on the grave nostalgia of young people, only “Metropolitan” puts that concern front and center with a formality that is more literary than cinematic. With its unobtrusive Upper East Side interiors, unremarkable-looking cast (few of whom went on to pursue professional acting careers), and endless prattle about the decline of the “Urban Haute Bourgeoisie” (a term one character devises to describe the “preppy class”), this film highlights the life of the mind as no other American coming-of-ager had done before and likely ever will again. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Audrey Rouget (Carolyn Farina), the most pensive member of her group, and Tom Townsend (Edward Clements), an Ivy League ginger who has lost his trust fund and must, relatively speaking, live on his wits. (This entails him living on the Upper West Side and declaring himself an agrarian socialist while buying a secondhand tux.) Continue Reading →