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  Metropolitan Class Action
Year: 1990
Director: Whit Stillman
Stars: Carolyn Farina, Edward Clements, Chris Eigeman, Taylor Nichols, Allison Parisi, Dylan Hundley, Isabel Gillies, Bryan Leder, Will Kempe, Ellia Thompson, Stephen Uys, Roger W. Kirby, Alice Connorton, Linda Gillies
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) is a young student wandering the streets of New York one night near Christmas when he is accosted by a group of other students about getting into a cab. He protests that he was not hailing the vehicle, but they will hear none of it and ask him to accompany them to a social gathering they are attending, so not having a good excuse not to go, Tom joins them. He finds himself sipping drinks at a swanky apartment with the upper crust, not feeling as if he fits in yet educated enough to be able to bluff his way through their conversations - then he meets Audrey (Carolyn Farina)...

Before Quentin Tarantino burst onto the scene, American indie drama was either something depressing about drug addicts, or Woody Allen-inspired talkfests like Metropolitan, and watching this now may well make you nostalgic for the times when not every low budget effort had to include a gun in its plot (OK, there's a gun in this too, but it's only a brief gag and is never fired). Whit Stillman was your man behind the camera, making his first film on limited resources with a cast of young talent who were equally untried in the field.

There are many who lament that Stillman, with his work's obvious intelligence which is lightly worn and never arrogant, did not get the chance to direct more, because if you like to hear well-written dialogue performed by a cast who know exactly what is required of them, you will not forget your encounters with his trilogy of nineties gems. Certainly Metropolitan went over very well with those who like allusions to Jane Austen in their movies, and there were some who described this as an Austen plot updated to modern New York, but even for those of us who wouldn't dream of reading such a literary classic, there were rewards here.

If there's anything offputing about Stillman's style, it's that he seems to be at one remove from his characters, not quite the scientist examining his results under a microscope, but not quite endorsing them and keeping an ironic distance at all times. That's not to say he doesn't like these people he presents for our entertainment, particularly in this where there is a distinct sympathy with the young people as they form their own opinions and edge their way towards proper romances, but he's not afraid to make gentle fun of them to the extent that maybe the kidding is not so gentle after all: not lacerating, but with a concealed acidity.

That said, when Tom breaks Audrey's heart because he does not know any better, thinking he is more suited to flighty Serena (Ellia Thompson), we're left in no doubt that Audrey is deeply affected. But Stillman is not cruel here, and makes sure there is a happy ending even as he observes, say, Tom admitting he prefers to read literary criticism than the actual books because he feels he gets the best of both worlds: the intent of the original author and an opinion on that. Perhaps the best character is Nick (Chris Eigeman), a charismatic but sharp-tongued fellow who is not above making up stories about those he does not like, excusing himself by saying that the gist of his tales are accurate even if the details are not. Taylor Nichols' over-earnest Charlie is also worth mentioning, providing many of the laughs with his pretentiousness. All in all, Metropolitan might have brought an exclusive social set to the screen, but did not make you feel like an outsider peeking in; you do get to like them and feel welcome. Music by Tom Judson and Mark Suozzo.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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