An ironic comic look at Manhatten’s vanishing debutante scene, METROPOLITAN chronicles the rise and ultimate decline of a group of young Park Avenue socialites. Set sometime in the recent past, the tightly-knit group assembles nightly, in black tie and evening dress, at “after-parties”, to discuss life, honor and the impending demise of their class, which they term UHB — Urban Haute Bourgeoisie.
While home for the Christmas holidays from Princeton, an outsider comes into their midst. Wearing a rented tuxedo, Tom Townsend is a “radical” from the socially alien West Side. However, since there is a “real” escort shortage, Tom is welcomed to the group.
The group’s arrogant, but strangely kind leader is Nick Smith. Audrey is quiet and charming. Other members of the self-dubbed “Sally Fowler Rat Pack,” or SFRP, include Charlie, the prep moralist devoted to Audrey; Cynthia, a budding femme fatale; the ever-sleeping Fred; Jane, who’s very rich and very judgmental; and, Sally, in whose apartment they all meet.
Tom is unaware of Audrey’s crush on him. Although Tom claims to have gotten over his infatuation with Serena Slocum, a glamorous girl who snubbed him in boarding school, he actually thinks of little else. However, when Serena begins to reciprocate, Tom’s socio-political qualms about Serena fade.
Meanwhile, looming in the background is rich, handsome, and dangerous Rick Von Sloneker, admired by women, but despised by Nick. In the decadent, post-Christmas days, it is Von Sloneker’s shadow which falls over the SFRP, contributing to the group’s disintegration and decline.
Sharply detailed, METROPOLITAN seeks to portray with accuracy the world which F. Scott Fitzgerald’s THIS SIDE OF PARADISE caught at its heyday. It succeeds, and is much welcomed, mainly because of the absence in American cinema of accurate portraits of the traditional upper class. By treating the characters ironically, the viewer is free to approach the characters from their point of view.
The 1930s style show tunes and the Society Dance Band sound are key to establishing the mood and authenticity of the film. The music is also charming, ranging from semi-sweet sadness to cha-cha-cha. There’s even a rendition of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”.
The theme of METROPOLITAN is upper-middle class failure. As Charles says moodily, “We hear a lot about the great social mobility in America… What is less discussed is how easy it is to go down.” The film’s writer, producer and director, Whit Stillman, calls it the “mansion syndrome”. “Inside the mansion,” Stillman explains, “things are nice and safe. If you go outside and try to accomplish something, you have nowhere to go, but down.”
In another scene, Charlie pontificates on how all humans have an innate belief in some Supreme Being. He talks about “a conscious act of faith.” When asked if he has ever experienced that he answers, “No. I hope to, someday.”
Which reminds one of the counsel found in the Book of Ecclesiastes. No matter how carefully you pursue life and pleasure, it will end in the darkness and dust of death. So remember your Creator in the days of your youth… no matter what your socio-economic status may be.
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Several profanities and obscenities; substance abuse and excessive drinking; game of strip poker with partial nudity