A critical darling when it hit the bigscreen in 1990, Whit Stillman’s “Metropolitan” generated enough good will to fuel two subsequent pics by this writer-director-producer, “Barcelona” (1994) and “The Last Days of Disco” (1998), neither of which is as favored as of his freshman effort. Despite obvious debts to Woody Allen and Philip Barry, “Metropolitan” seems only to have grown in esteem. Unfortunately, this may not be quite the deluxe package this film’s fans were awaiting.
The movie itself is presented in a flawless new high-definition digital transfer, which preserves the lambent lighting that flattered every polished mahogany table and chintz-upholstered sofa in sight. And the sound couldn’t be crisper — the rustle of satin ball gowns a particular joy. Amazingly, these subtle attractions turn out to be almost accidental, at least if one believes the newly recorded commentary track, on which Stillman says he knew little about cinema’s technical aspects when he made this film.
Pic’s droll dialogue sounds more sophisticated than ever, thanks to the memorable epigrams in Stillman’s Oscar-nommed script. But “Metropolitan” doesn’t just mock the prep school, debutante ball and regatta set. The film’s elliptical conclusion and opening (a late addition, says the director in his commentary) reveal a sympathy for this presumably dying breed, and a respect for a code of conduct some still hold dear.
Disappointment comes only because at Criterion’s high price, one wants more than a movie and solid commentary. Alas, the extras here are about as compelling as party favors at a stuffy New Year’s dance: dull outtakes and scenes with actors later replaced. Far better would have been new interviews with the film’s winsome cast, none of whom seem to have gone far in film.