December 25, 2017

NEVER A BAD TIME FOR WHIT STILLMAN:

Christmas Nocturne (JAMES WOLCOTT, DECEMBER 23, 2011, Vanity Fair)

[T]he movie that best captures the mood of Christmas for me is one that isn't thought of as a holiday classic at all--Whit Stillman's Metropolitan. A comedy of manners (and how rare is that in movies! rare in contemporary fiction itself, for that matter, where introspection drives a forklift), Metropolitan takes place over the Christmas vacation for a cliquish covey of debutantes and swains known as the Sally Fowler Rat Pack who seem to languish on sofas for large amounts of the movie, a shipwreck party engaged in gossip, teasing, intellectual namedropping, card playing, and fin de siecle musings, all of which would sound as indolently precious and brittlely arch (the privileged class flexing his pinched nostrils) if it weren't for the range of notes Stillman's dialogue and actors achieve--from the ingenuous sweetness of Carolyn Farina's Audrey (a true daughter of Jane Austen) to the parrot bite of Chris Eigeman's Nick, with his fiercely held opinions about, well, everything: "The cha-cha is no more ridiculous than life itself."

In its rotating meet-ups of a very select group, Metropolitan is reminiscent of the party novels of English novelists such as Evelyn Waugh (Vile Bodies) and Anthony Powell (Afternoon Men), a succession of set-pieces thinly tied together with grayish hangovers and severe fallouts from the evenings' dissipations. The soirees in Metropolitan don't have the vigor and debauchery of Waugh's blowouts because the drinking doesn't intensify into sloppy furor and shattered glass--its characters aren't chasing fun with the feral zeal of a foxhunt. They behave as if being a member of the urban haute bourgeoisie (UHB) conferred stricter standards on conduct and decorum than being born into the loutish aristocracy. The poignance of the film--akin to the poignance of Barry Levinson's Diner--is our understanding that this is the last time the gang will be together before the diaspora of adulthood, and that they are already nostalgic for what they haven't quite left behind. A cloud of reminiscence hangs over the characters as they're starting to miss something that hasn't yet gone.

Posted by at December 25, 2017 7:42 AM

  

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