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The Criterion Collection presents
Metropolitan (1990)

"I don't read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelists' ideas as well as the critics' thinking."
- Tom Townsend (Edward Clements)

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: February 14, 2006

Stars: Carolyn Farina, Edward Clements, Chris Eigeman, Taylor Nichols, Allison Parisi, Dylan Hundley
Other Stars: Isabel Gillies, Bryan Leder, Will Kempe, Ellia Thompson, Stephen Uys
Director: Whit Stillman

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for (suitable for adults and adolescents)
Run Time: 01h:39m:00s
Release Date: February 14, 2006
UPC: 715515017022
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- AA-B+ B+

DVD Review

"It's a tiny bit arrogant of people to go around worrying about those less fortunate." - Nick Smith

Writer/director Whit Stillman has crafted only three films, but each picture conveys the unique voice of young, preppy intellectuals. While movies often depict the rich, they rarely focus on this specific class of young people who attend debutante ("deb") parties and discuss a wide range of philosophies. Stillman burst onto the indie filmmaking scene in 1990 with Metropolitan, an engaging tale of highbrow college kids conversing during Christmas break. The often-biting story sets its characters up for ridicule, but it also understands their personalities and avoid the pratfalls of more conventional fare. Even its regular-guy lead can be cruel and condescending, but his actions come from oblivious innocence instead of actual malice.

Edward Clements stars as Tom Townsend, a red-haired West Side guy who stumbles into the more upper-class "deb" party scene. Initially hesitant to participate in events that he claims to detest, Tom slowly grows fond of them and becomes involved in this intriguing social group. Lacking a true winter coat and forced to keep wearing the same rental tuxedo every time, his unfamiliarity with this world helps to lead us into the scene. Tom may provide the entryway, but his character often takes a backseat to the scene-stealing Nick Smith (Chris Eigeman) and Charlie Black (Taylor Nichols). Nick's obsession with the obnoxious, yet popular Rick Von Sloneker (Will Kempe) dominates many of his statements, which angrily focus on the suave guy's nefarious activities. Eigeman brings his trademark caustic delivery to Nick's comments, which arenít always friendly but are consistently entertaining. Charlie spends his days worried about the upper class being doomed to failure and speaks at length about this topic. Nichols' stumbling delivery helps to create a memorable character that grows on us (and Tom) as the story progresses.

"Men are dates, date substitutes, or potential dates. I find that dehumanizing." - Fred Neff

An essential reason for Tom's frequent invites is his status as an escort for the lovely Audrey Rouget (Carolyn Farina). Guys willing to attend these parties are not easy finds, and traditions mandate that women should not arrive alone. Audrey immediately takes a liking to Tom, and hopes for a relationship, but he's completely unaware of her thoughts. His focus remains on the well-traveled Serena Slocum (Elizabeth Thompson)—a former girlfriend who now dates Von Sloneker. Each primary character longs for another, but these feelings are mostly the crushes of innocent young people who are relatively clueless about life. It is possible that one connection will lead to an actual relationship, but the likelihood of quick flings is much higher. When Christmas break ends, the preppies will return to college and retain only fleeting memories of their experiences at home.

Metropolitan succeeds greatly by presenting individuals that rarely grace the silver screen. While they occupy a specific social area, the experiences are universal and realistic due to the three-dimensional characters depicted. It is especially impressive to realize that basically the entire cast includes actors making their film debuts. Eigeman and Nichols stand out and have enjoyed solid careers, while other talents like Farina and Clements rarely appeared again. Each actor delivers Stillman's exceptional lines effectively and helps to generate a surprisingly engaging film. Although I prefer his follow-up Barcelona, many fans consider this first entry to be his best creation. Using old-style New York as a backdrop, Stillman crafts an intelligent picture that remains unique more than 15 years after its initial release.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Criterion has done an excellent job with the restoration of this transfer, which was especially grainy on its VHS release. This 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer does face the limitations of the original low-budget print, but it improves significantly over the past version. The colors are much sharper, and the New York atmosphere shines effectively from the television screen.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Metropolitan includes a tremendous amount of dialogue with numerous memorable lines, so it's essential that the sounds are understandable. This 2.0-channel Dolby Surround track does present the conversations clearly, and it also delivers the scene-setting music impressively. The transfer offers a centralized presentation, but it fails to significantly detract from the overall product.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Whit Stilman, Editor Chris Tellefsen, Chris Eigeman, and Taylor Nichols
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Outtakes
  2. Essay by author and film scholar Luc Sante
Extras Review: This Criterion release does not include a large number of extra features, but the inclusions are worthwhile. The best one is a commentary from Whit Stillman, Editor Chris Tellefsen, Chris Eigeman, and Taylor Nichols. The writer/director leads the discussion and outlines many of the difficulties involved with shooting a very low-budget film in New York City. His comments are fairly dry, but they include plenty of interesting material regarding the movie's creation. Eigeman and Nichols discuss the experience of working on their first film. In similar fashion to the Barcelona commentary, they enjoy recounting their experiences and help to generate an entertaining conversation.

The additional supplements include outtakes, alternate casting, the original theatrical trailer, and an essay from author and film scholar Luc San. The extra scenes offer a grainy, nine-minute montage of quick moments, including the actors trying to avoid laughing during shooting. It also contains a memorial for line producer Brian Greenbaum, who died in 1992 at the age of 30. The alternate casting section showcases Troma leader Lloyd Kaufman playing the record producer instead of John Lynch. The other difference is surprising, as Will Kempe (Rick von Sloneker) was originally slated to play Nick Smith. The final choices for both parts were definitely more suitable to each actor's style.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Metropolitan received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay in 1991 and earned Stillman tremendous recognition as a rising talent. Although he has only released two more films, each picture offers an intelligent, entertaining perspective on affluent youth. Criterion deserves praise for finally bringing this classic independent film to DVD, which should attract a new legion of fans. This impressive release is highly recommended.


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