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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Metropolitan - Criterion Collection
Metropolitan - Criterion Collection
Criterion // PG-13 // February 14, 2006
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted February 4, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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In 10 Words or Less
The lifestyles of New York's rich and privileged youth

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: The Last Days of Disco, good writing
Likes: Whit Stillman
Dislikes: New York City
Hates: The bourgeoisie

The Show
The socialite, as a concept, has fallen on some hard times, thanks to the attention whoring done by "debutantes" like Paris Hilton. No longer does the word socialite conjure images of long nights of drinking, dancing and faux intellectual chat, unless it ends with a night-vision video tape. Perhaps there are pockets of rich kids who still get dressed up for a night of carousing, but they are more likely to just pop some pills and endanger the common folk.

In that sense, Metropolitan is something of a period piece. Even when it was made 15 years ago, the world it depicted wasn't truly a reality. After all, the children of the rich getting together following various balls and dances to talk about topics better suited for a college classroom just screams of kids playing dress-up. But in the world of this film, these kids are deadly serious, especially Nick (Chris Eigeman) and Charlie (Taylor Nichols).

Nick truly believes in the elite, and in his group of friends, who are known as the Sally Fowler Rat Pack. By carrying on the top hat-and-tails tradition, he feels he is redeeming his generation. Charlie, on the other hand, feels their subculture is bound to come to an end, and that the privileged are doomed to failure. If their female compatriots, including the quiet Audrey (Carolyn Farina), and their concerns about an "escort shortage" are any proof, Charlie is dead right.

Had Nick, Charlie and their ilk been the only characters in the film, the experience of watching Metropolitan would have been akin to visiting a human zoo. While that might be a fun time in everyday life, it rarely makes for a good film. To solve the problem, writer/director Whit Stillman (The Last Days of Disco) provides a peephole in the form of Tom Townsend (Edward Clements), a middle-class fellow who finds himself in the midst of the high life and has to keep his true financial identity a secret.

The hidden identity/social status storyline has been done to death in romantic comedies, but thankfully Stillman doesn't give it another rehashing. Instead, the issue is dealt with, and life goes on. That it's handled this way is perfect for the film, as that sums up the way these people think: you are worth as much as what someone needs from you. While that sounds vicious and shallow, it's more honest than most people are in their relationships.

Stillman's story is somewhat thin, as has been the case with his other films, because they are essentially character studies. What people say is just as, or more important than what they do, and what they say and how they say it is normally rather interesting to hear. Some people might tire of the constant talk and SAT-style vocabulary of the characters, and there's certainly nothing impressive about Stillman's visual style, though the sets are nice and lush, but if you get into the material, there's some very funny moments and interesting observations on the behavior and mores of the "urban haute bourgeoisie" in this movie.

Criterion has made Metropolitan a one-disc release, packed in a standard keepcase with one of their standard inserts, which features info about the disc and its creation, as well as a well-written essay by author Luc Sante, who provides an introduction and some insight into the film's success. The DVD has a full-frame static main menu that's oh-so-proper, with options to play the film, select chapters and check out the special features. The chapter select menu is a text list of scenes, while there are no audio options. Subtitles are available in English, though there is not closed captioning.

The Quality
The video has a relatively hefty amount of grain, and that's following a new high-definition transfer, supervised by Stillman and cinematographer John Thomas. Despite a precise clean-up, there are still a few minor bits of dirt in the film and some moments of jittering, but overall, the movie looks pretty nice, even if it does look its age in spots. The color is solid, though a bit dull, with the exception of Tom's hair, while the level of detail is decent, but not extremely sharp. Compare the movie with the footage in the trailer, and the improvement is obvious.

The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 1.0 track, and is fed entirely to the center channel. That's completely acceptable for such a dialogue-driven film, which involves tons of simple discussion and very little movement in a scene. The voices are crisp and well-defined, and are mixed well with the old-fashioned music found throughout the film.

The Extras
The main extra is a feature-length audio commentary with Stillman, Eigeman, Nichols and editor Christopher Tellefsen. At times, the chat sounds like one of the socialites' afterparty blatherings, as they occasionally get animated, but are mostly subdued. On the plus side, there are plenty of on-set stories shared, and a good deal of talk about what it took to make the low-budget independent film. It's a very appropriate commentary for a film like this.

Over nine minutes of outtakes focus on dialogue flubs and slate-clap troubles, but aren't all that funny, and look pretty bad, with tons of damage. At least they are presented in anamorphic widescreen. The montage is accompanied by a one-minute memorial to line producer Brian Greenbaum, who died two years after the film was made. The memorial is made up of shots in which Greenbaum served as an extra. Hard to criticize this, but it's equally hard to think many viewers will have a reason to watch it.

One of the more interesting extras is a set of scenes with alternate cast members from the film. Even better, one shows Troma Films' Lloyd Kaufman's acting ability. Like the outtakes, these are in awful shape, but they are in anamorphic widescreen, and have optional commentary by Stillman, who explains the casting changes. They are followed by the film's original theatrical trailer, though it's presented in full-frame format.

The Bottom Line
Metropolitan is a brilliantly-written first film from an auteur who knows more about the lives of upwardly mobile city dwellers than the majority of story tellers. Due to that strength, Stillman is capable of exploring, criticizing and celebrating a faux upper crust of society in the span of one movie, creating a movie that is anachronistic, satirical and literary, as well as quite funny. Criterion has put a lot into cleaning up the film, and added a few appreciated extras that shed new light on the indie classic. Fans of the film will want to pick this release up, while it will also appeal to those who enjoy tales of high society and their foibles.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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