Metropolitan (written and directed by a guy named Whit Stillman) is a streamable movie on Netflix. If it were well known I may not have been moved to write about it, but since it is not, and since it was such an enjoyable and fairly random discovery, I thought I would draw your attention to it. The movie recounts a week in the lives of young, privileged, upper-class Manhattan socialites–a particularly important week called ‘Deb week,’ in which there are a series of Debutante balls and after-parties. The main characters are reasonably attractive, smart, and sophisticated–members of what one character refers to (proudly) as the untitled aristocracy–along with a Nick Carraway type who, despite his relatively modest background, falls in with them.
It is a very funny movie. As one would expect, much of the humor is a skewering of the pretentious affectations of this particular band of bourgeoisie. Highlights include a character who earnestly explains that he doesn’t read fiction but only literary criticism, for this way he is exposed to an author’s ideas as well as the critic’s instructions concerning what he ought to think about those ideas, and another character–the group’s intellectual–whose sense of (in)justice seems to be primarily exercised by what he perceives to be unfair and inaccurate representations of the bourgeoisie within the broader culture. To the movie’s credit, however, it is not a wholly unsympathetic portrayal of its cast of characters. Two characters, in particular, are positively likable: one a thoughtful, sensitive young woman (Audrey) whose wealth doesn’t seem to have shaped her personality in any obvious way, and another (Nick, prone to wearing a top hat) who has very deliberately fashioned his life and personality in accordance with what he believes suits a person of his station (Nick is too articulate and too witty to dislike).
Aside from the jokes, which develop organically and never seem forced, the movie is actually a sharp depiction of individuals caught in what Kierkegaard called the “aesthetic stage of existence.” We have plenty of powerful movies about the evils of war, poverty, violence, betrayal, and so forth, but comparatively few movies that squarely address the evil of boredom (Dangerous Liasons, Metropolitan, and….?). These are young people who have nothing they have to do, and who as a result spend the better part of their young lives doing nothing but trying to stave off boredom through diversions like parties, gossip, alcohol, weightless intellectual sparring, and so forth. It’s simply understood that their lifestyle is unsustainable, as one of the characters indeed intimates–not because the money will run out, but rather because of the inexorable law of diminishing hedonic returns. These are young men and women on their way to becoming unhappy adults, and there is something sad about that.
A writer/director, I think, must have some artistic talent to elicit sympathy from you for the idle rich. Stillman accomplishes that. And anyway you’ll laugh. If you watch it let me know what you think.