Whit Stillman (Barcelona
, Last Days of Disco
) enters Woody Allen territory in his talky yet articulate debut, creating a stinging exposé of self-important upper-class socialites and the head games they play, during their Christmas vacation in Manhattan. Witty and cynical, Stillman captures this odd subculture with sly observation and occasional sympathy--sort of a fascinating anthropological study of adolescent preppies. His young subjects, spoiled by their silver spoons, still lack life experience and, thus, emotional maturity or social grace. They pass time idly discussing Jane Austen (a tip of the hat to the master of social-manner comedies), Marxism, and other philosophies, dressing up for parties and undressing during strip poker, and gossiping about the romantic pairings for the upcoming debutante ball. Stillman smartly offers up Tom (Edward Clements), a middle-class loner who's slowly adopted into the clique, as an audience identification reference, making the events seem even stranger and funnier from his point of view. But Tom's far from perfect himself. As the innocent, easily manipulated Audrey (Carolyn Farina) begins to fall in love with him, Tom's boorish, hurtful responses make him appear as juvenile as the rest. Concurrently, it also jolts the group with a much-needed taste of reality, and the film with unpredictable poignancy, suggesting that at least one may grow from the experience. In his first opportunity as director, Stillman pulls wonderful performances from his unknown cast. Especially memorable are Christopher Eigeman as the sarcastically perceptive snob, Nick, and Taylor Nichols playing the philosophical, anxiety-ridden Charlie. --Dave McCoy
One of the great American independent films of the 1990s, the surprise hit Metropolitan by writer-director Whit Stillman (Damsels in Distress) is a sparkling comedic chronicle of a middle-class young man's romantic misadventures in New York City's debutante society. Stillman's deft, literate dialogue and hilariously highbrow observations earned this first film an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay. Alongside the wit and sophistication, though, lies a tender tale of adolescent anxiety.