Metropolitan (1990 film)

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Promotional poster
Directed byWhit Stillman
Produced byWhit Stillman
Written byWhit Stillman
Music by
CinematographyJohn Thomas
Edited byChristopher Tellefsen
  • Westerly Films[1]
  • Allagash Films[1]
Distributed byNew Line Cinema[1]
Release date
  • August 3, 1990 (1990-08-03)
Running time
98 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.9 million[3]

Metropolitan is a 1990 American romantic comedy-drama film and the debut of director and screenwriter Whit Stillman.[4] 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.[5]

The film is often considered the first of a trilogy of Stillman films, followed by Barcelona (1994, but written before Metropolitan) and The Last Days of Disco (1998).[6]


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 has 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 Slocumb, 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. Other members of the Rat Pack point out holes in Nick's story. Nick admits that the story was a "composite" of incidents from Rick's life. 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. Realizing that he's 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.


Leading commentators such as Emmanuel Levy[7] and Madeleine Dobie have identified the film as a comedy of manners or a coming-of-age story.[citation needed] Suzanne Pucci, in her book Jane Austen and Company, compares the film to Austen's novels and those of Henry James, such as 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 and Bridget Jones's Diary. 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]



Whit Stillman wrote the screenplay for Metropolitan between 1984 and 1988 while he was 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. Stillman claims the movie is based on events from his life in late 1970, while he was living with his divorced mother in Washington, D.C. While on Christmas break during his first year at Harvard University, he met a group of like-minded college students from various universities around the country. Each night, he and his new group of friends attended a formal ballroom dance party at a hotel or convention hall, and then retired to an after-hours gathering at one of the students' parents' houses in nearby Georgetown. The group then spent the remainder of the night talking, debating and discussing a wide range of topics. As in the movie, this nightly ritual eventually ended just after New Year's Day when Stillman and the rest of the group returned to their respective schools.


Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 91% "fresh" rating from a sample of 34 reviews, and the summary, "An ironically comic look at Manhattan's endangered debutante scene, Metropolitan chronicles the rise and ultimate decline of a group of young Park Avenue socialites who gather nightly to discuss love, honor, and the impending demise of their class."[10]



  1. ^ a b c "Metropolitan". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  2. ^ "Metropolitan". British Board of Film Classification. July 2, 1990. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  3. ^ "Metropolitan". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  4. ^ Stephen Holden (August 3, 1990). "New Face; Crashing A Socialite's Cozy World". The New York Times. Retrieved April 6, 2012.
  5. ^ Stillman, Whit. Barcelona & Metropolitan; A Tale of Two Cities. Faber and Faber Ltd. 1994. ISBN 0-571-17365-9
  6. ^ "A Whit Stillman Trilogy: Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  7. ^ Emmanuel Levy, Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film.
  8. ^ Suzanne Pucci, Jane Austen and Company, p. 3, 2003.
  9. ^ Suzanne Pucci, Jane Austen and Company, p. 4, 2003.
  10. ^ Metropolitan at Rotten Tomatoes

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