Metropolitan (1990 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byWhit Stillman
Written byWhit Stillman
Produced byWhit Stillman
CinematographyJohn Thomas
Edited byChristopher Tellefsen
Music by
  • Westerly Films[1]
  • Allagash Films[1]
Distributed byNew Line Cinema[1]
Release dates
  • January 20, 1990 (1990-01-20) (Sundance)
  • August 3, 1990 (1990-08-03) (United States)
Running time
98 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Box office$7 million[3]

Metropolitan is a 1990 American romantic comedy-drama film produced, written and directed by Whit Stillman, in his feature directorial debut. The film concerns the lives of a group of wealthy young socialites during debutante season in Manhattan. In addition to some of their debutante parties, it covers their frequent informal after-hours gatherings at a friend's Upper East Side apartment, where they discuss life, philosophy and their fate; form attachments, romances and intrigues; and react to an interesting but less well-to-do newcomer.

Metropolitan was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 63rd Academy Awards.[4] The film is often considered the first of a trilogy of Stillman films, followed by Barcelona (1994) and The Last Days of Disco (1998).[5]


Middle-class Princeton student Tom Townsend, an admirer of Charles Fourier, attends a debutante dress ball one evening on a whim. After the ball, a mix-up leads to his meeting a small group of young Upper East Side socialites known as the Sally Fowler Rat Pack, after the girl whose apartment they use for after-hours parties. Believing that they accidentally stole a taxi from Tom, they decide to invite him to their after-hours party, to prevent ill feelings.

Tom decides to attend the party, and befriends several other attendees, including Nick Smith, a cynic who takes Tom under his wing; Audrey, a shy girl who enjoys Regency-era literature and develops a crush on Tom; and Charlie, an overly philosophical friend with an unrequited love for Audrey. Tom learns that he and the Rat Pack have some common friends, including his ex-girlfriend Serena Slocum, with whom he remains infatuated.

Under Nick's tutelage, Tom ingratiates himself to the Rat Pack and soon becomes a full-fledged member. Much of the film is composed of dialogues in which Tom and the Rat Pack discuss the nebulous social scene they occupy, including how they are coming of age just as the culture in which they were raised is ending, leaving them with uncertain social futures. During these discussions, Tom reveals that he, too, was raised wealthy, but that his father abandoned the family to marry another woman, leaving Tom and his mother with limited financial resources. As a result, Tom harbors a love–hate relationship with wealth and the upper class.

Serena has been dating Rick Von Sloneker, a young, titled aristocrat notorious for his womanizing. At a party after the International Debutante Ball, Nick alienates himself from the group by accusing Rick of getting a girl drunk and convincing her to "pull a train" several years before, after which she committed suicide. Nick admits that the story was a "composite" of incidents from Rick's life, but insists that it was based on real events. Shortly thereafter, Nick leaves Manhattan, giving Tom his top hat as a token of friendship.

Believing that Tom is not interested in her romantically, Audrey decides to leave Manhattan to spend the rest of vacation in the Hamptons with Rick and another girl from the Rat Pack named Cynthia. Realizing that he has developed feelings for Audrey, Tom recruits Charlie to help him rescue her from Rick. The two travel to the Hamptons together, bonding en route. Against their expectations, they arrive to find Audrey in no peril. Tom and Charlie nonetheless instigate a fight with Rick, which ends with them being kicked out of his beach house. Afterward, Tom and Audrey talk on the beach, with Audrey saying that she is planning to attend college in France, and Tom contemplating going to visit her there. Tom, Audrey, and Charlie begin hitchhiking together towards Manhattan.



Whit Stillman wrote the screenplay for Metropolitan between 1984 and 1988 while running an illustration agency in New York, and financed it by selling his apartment for $50,000, as well as with a few contributions from family members and friends. Including post-production, the total cost of making the film was $210,000.[6] Stillman wanted to set the film in the past, possibly in the pre-Woodstock 1960s, but the budget did not allow for a strict period film to be made. Instead, he added period details to give the film an "aura of the past", like vintage Checker Cabs, and generally excluded anything too specific to the present day.[6]


Leading commentators such as Emanuel Levy[7] have called the film a comedy of manners while in her book Jane Austen and Co., Suzanne R. Pucci compares the film to Austen's novels and those of Henry James, such as The Wings of the Dove.[8] For Pucci, the film deserves full membership in the class of 20th- and early 21st-century Austen remakes such as Ruby in Paradise (1993) and Bridget Jones's Diary (2001). According to her, the film tracks "the Austen phenomenon beyond Austen, into what [is called] the 'post-heritage' film, a kind of historical costume drama that uses the past in a deliberate or explicit way to explore current issues in cultural politics".[9] In 2015, The New Yorker film critic Richard Brody wrote that Metropolitan is about the plight of America's upper class, or what the film's characters call the "urban haute bourgeoisie", and the "possibility—the necessity—and the difficulty of breaking out of their world and connecting with the wider world, for the benefit of the wider world".[10] Mark Henrie, editor of the book Doomed Bourgeois in Love: Essays on the Films of Whit Stillman, writes that it is a conservative film, which uses "mocking affection, gentle irony, and a blizzard of witty dialogue" to bring us "to see what is admirable and necessary in the customs and conventions of America's upper class".[11] In 2009, National Review named it the third-best conservative film.[12]


On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 93% based on 41 reviews, with an average rating of 7.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Metropolitan gently skewers the young socialite class with a smartly written dramedy whose unique, specific setting yields rich universal truths".[13]

The film grossed $2.9 million in the United States and Canada and $7 million worldwide.[14][3]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result
20/20 Awards Best Supporting Actor Christopher Eigeman Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Whit Stillman Nominated
Academy Awards[15] Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Nominated
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Screenplay Whit Stillman Nominated
Deauville American Film Festival[16] Coup de Coeur LTC Won[a]
Critics Award Won[b]
Independent Spirit Awards[17] Best Female Lead Carolyn Farina Nominated
Best Screenplay Whit Stillman Nominated
Best First Feature Won[18]
Locarno Film Festival Golden Leopard Nominated
Silver Leopard Won
National Board of Review Awards[19] Top Ten Films 7th Place
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[20] Best Screenplay Whit Stillman Runner-up
Best New Director Won
Sundance Film Festival[21] Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic Nominated



  1. ^ a b c "Metropolitan". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Archived from the original on September 10, 2018. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  2. ^ "Metropolitan". British Board of Film Classification. July 2, 1990. Archived from the original on January 11, 2023. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  3. ^ a b Klady, Leonard (October 2, 1995). "Indie niche getting packed with product". Variety. p. 13.
  4. ^ "Ghost Wins Best Original Screenplay: 1991 Oscars". YouTube. Archived from the original on August 5, 2022. Retrieved June 12, 2022.
  5. ^ "A Whit Stillman Trilogy: Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco". The Criterion Collection. Archived from the original on October 25, 2018. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  6. ^ a b BUILD Series (August 6, 2015). Whit Stillman, Carolyn Farina and Dylan Hundley on Metropolitan. Archived from the original on December 1, 2016. Retrieved March 22, 2020 – via YouTube.
  7. ^ Levy, Emanuel (1999). "Ivy League Intellectualism––Whit Stillman". Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film. New York University Press. pp. 198–201. ISBN 978-0-8147-6520-3. OCLC 55638553.
  8. ^ Pucci & Thompson 2003, p. 3.
  9. ^ Pucci & Thompson 2003, pp. 34.
  10. ^ Brody, Richard (August 11, 2015). ""Metropolitan" and the Enduring Plight of the U.H.B." The New Yorker. Archived from the original on November 8, 2020. Retrieved January 6, 2021.
  11. ^ Gyford, Phil (February 14, 2009). "Two 'Metropolitan' items". Archived from the original on October 11, 2022. Retrieved October 11, 2022.
  12. ^ "The Best Conservative Movies". National Review. February 23, 2009. Archived from the original on August 23, 2018. Retrieved December 1, 2022.
  13. ^ Metropolitan at Rotten Tomatoes
  14. ^ "Metropolitan (1990)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on June 7, 2021. Retrieved June 7, 2021.
  15. ^ "The 63rd Academy Awards (1991) Nominees and Winners". AMPAS. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved October 20, 2011.
  16. ^ "1990 Deauville Film Festival". Mubi. Archived from the original on June 12, 2022. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  17. ^ "36 Years of Nominees and Winners" (PDF). Independent Spirit Awards. Archived (PDF) from the original on August 13, 2021. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  18. ^ "6th Spirit Awards ceremony on Film Independent's official YouTube channel". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 2, 2022. Retrieved June 12, 2022.
  19. ^ "1990 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Archived from the original on June 23, 2021. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  20. ^ "1990 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". New York Film Critics Circle. Archived from the original on April 30, 2021. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  21. ^ 1990 Sundance Film Festival Archived January 1, 2012, at the Wayback Machine


  • Pucci, Suzanne R.; Thompson, James, eds. (2003). Jane Austen and Co.: Remaking the Past in Contemporary Culture. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. ISBN 978-1-4175-1932-3. OCLC 55854380.

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