Metropolitan (1990 film)

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Promotional poster for Metropolitan
Directed by Whit Stillman
Produced by Whit Stillman
Written by Whit Stillman
Music by Jock Davis
Tom Judson
Mark Suozzo
Cinematography John Thomas
Edited by Christopher Tellefsen
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release date
  • August 3, 1990 (1990-08-03)
Running time
98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $225,000
Box office $2,938,208 (USA)

Metropolitan is the debut film by director and screenwriter Whit Stillman.[1] It received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.[2] 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).


Shot on location in Manhattan and Long Island, the film depicts the lives of young, well-educated upper-class New Yorkers (or, as one character calls them, the "urban haute bourgeoisie") home on winter break from their first year of college during debutante ball season.

Middle-class Princeton student Tom Townsend, an admirer of Charles Fourier's socialism, attends a 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 cynical dandy[3] who takes Tom under his wing; Audrey, a shy[4] girl who enjoys Regency era literature and has a crush on Tom; and Charlie, an overly philosophical nerd[3] 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 yuppie 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 later admits that the story was not literally true but 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. The film ends with Tom, Audrey, and Charlie hitchhiking together towards Manhattan.


Leading commentators such as Emmanuel Levy[5] 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.[6] 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."[7]


  • Carolyn Farina as Audrey Rouget, a young debutante.
  • Edward Clements as Tom Townsend, a Princeton student who falls into Audrey's group of friends.
  • Chris Eigeman as Nick Smith, a cynic who takes Tom under his wing.
  • Taylor Nichols as Charlie Black, a stammering philosopher who is wary of Tom.
  • Allison Parisi as Jane Clark, Audrey's best friend.
  • Dylan Hundley as Sally Fowler, an aspiring singer who lets the group use her parents' Upper East Side apartment for their nightly get-togethers.
  • Isabel Gillies as Cynthia McLean, Sally's best friend.
  • Bryan Leder as Fred Neff, an alcoholic college graduate and mutual friend of the group.
  • Will Kempe as Rick Von Sloneker, a rival of Nick and Tom.
  • Ellia Thompson as Serena Slocum, Tom's ex-girlfriend, who is dating Von Sloneker.
  • Stephen Uys as Victor Lemley.
  • Roger W. Kirby as Man at Bar


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 gave the film a 91% "fresh" rating from a sample of 32 reviews.[citation needed]

Awards and honors[edit]

American Film Institute recognition:


  1. ^ Stephen Holden (1990-08-03). "New Face; Crashing A Socialite's Cozy World". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-04-06. 
  2. ^ Stillman, Whit. Barcelona & Metropolitan; A Tale of Two Cities. Faber and Faber Ltd. 1994. ISBN 0-571-17365-9
  3. ^ a b Emanuel Levy, Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film, p. 199)
  4. ^ Suzanne R. Pucci, James Thompson, Jane Austen and Co.: Remaking the Past in Contemporary Culture, p. 254
  5. ^ Emmanuel Levy, Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film.
  6. ^ Suzanne Pucci, Jane Austen and Company, p. 3, 2003.
  7. ^ Suzanne Pucci, Jane Austen and Company, p. 4, 2003.
  8. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs Nominees

External links[edit]