Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Laugh with and at Manhattan rich kids

Illustration for article titled Laugh with and at Manhattan rich kids

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Jim Jarmusch’s new film, Only Lovers Left Alive, is a great “hang-out movie.” Here are five other pictures that keep company with likable types.


Metropolitan (1990)

A great hangout movie doesn’t lack plot—it’s liberated from plot. When you remove the obligation to keep a story moving, a skilled director can allow characters to explore unresolvable questions. Metropolitan is an exemplar of this tricky form. The college-age Manhattan debutantes who populate Whit Stillman’s 1990 debut never find the life direction that they’re looking for, but it’s a delight to watch their earnest search. The story follows a group of high-society kids who gravitate to each other during a heady Christmas break. They spend almost every evening attending lavish formal balls, and then they retire to an apartment together for conversations that range from trifling gossip to grand philosophical rumination, sometimes in the same breath.

The Sally Fowler Rat Pack—named for the upper crust kid whose parents’ apartment is the venue for these chatty all-nighters—may be a bunch of rich kids, but they’re highly aware of their privilege. Still, even if they reject the snobby rituals they’re expected to perform, nobody offers a convincing replacement. Marxism? Cynicism? Fatalism? They try ideas on for size, like a meaning-of-life dress fitting. No grand vision feels quite right, though, and in the meantime, their ingrained social-climber urges prove hard to resist. Even as their desire for companionship draws them together, the definitive one-upmanship of the “haute bourgeoisie” creates a funny tension. “The titled aristocracy are the scum of the earth,” explains the untitled aristocrat Nick (Chris Eigeman), directing a bit of reverse elitism at a dashing baron who nibbles at the edges of the Rat Pack.

But barons are the old guard. Nick and the other members of the Pack are more excited by Tom (Edward Clements), the main character, who grew up among the Upper East Side elite but now lives on the West Side with his mother. Tom’s fortuitous arrival on the debutante scene adds a charge to the Rat Pack, as he represents a new perspective that’s different without being foreign. It soon becomes clear that Tom isn’t so extraordinary, and he’s just as much of a hypocrite as the rest of them. Still, his sometimes blithe, sometimes purposeful flouting of high-society custom is the catalyst for Metropolitan’s effervescence: He pushes the bounds just enough to make the others reveal their own contradictions more openly.

Stillman, who wrote and directed Metropolitan, says that it was inspired in part by his recollections of the 1969 debutante scene. And indeed, the movie has the structure of a remembered narrative, as if we’re seeing someone piece together only the most lively and telling conversations from one fantastic December in New York. Some sequences skip between fragments of conversation—sharp-edged morsels of wit that lodge themselves in the mind—and some linger on extended dialogues that are more profound (but still hilariously un-self-aware). In a way, the Sally Fowler Rat Packers seem to know that they’re in a memory, as they’re obsessed with the ephemerality of their friendship, their scene, and their vaunted status. They cling to the traditions of the Christmas debutante season, because they’re unsure about what happens next. And Metropolitan never provides the kids with a clear resolution, because it’s too much fun to watch them cast about for answers.

Availability: Metropolitan is available on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix, and to rent or purchase through the major digital services.