Metropolitan, and Mansfield Park

We saw Metropolitan last night; my first Whit Stillman film. Rich (and one not-rich) preppy college students are home in Manhattan for Christmas break, they go to debutante parties and after-parties; they talk at great length and with great pretension and wit; not much happens. It’s one of those low-budget indie films that makes me like low budget indie films. The (Oscar-nominated) script struck me as stilted but at the same time so witty and engaging I didn’t care. The acting was (with one exception, see below) was, well, the acting of indie film actors-still-learning-to-act, most of whom (AFAICT) have done little since, but again, they were all endearing enough that I liked them anyway: the very sweet Carolyn Farina especially grew on me. The score was fabulously perfect.

Allegedly (that is, according to some random person who said so on the IMDB) it’s a “loose adaptation” of Mansfield Park. Really it’s not at all, except in a sort of vague thematic way, in that both are about manners and morals and why they’re important. And the heroine was rather a Fanny Price. Indeed, Carolyn Farina was a much better (at least in terms of being faithful to the book) Fanny than either of the two in the actual adaptations I saw recently–Frances O’Connor is a fine actress, but her Fanny bore little resemblance to Jane Austen’s.

And there is a great discussion of Mansfield Park in the movie, in which our hero eventually reveals that he formed his opinion of it based only on a Lionel Trilling essay, and sees no need to read the book itself; it ends:

Audrey Rouget: What Jane Austen novels have you read?

Tom Townsend: None. I don’t read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelists’ ideas as well as the critics’ thinking. With fiction I can never forget that none of it really happened, that it’s all just made up by the author.

The lone really good actor I mentioned above was Chris Eigeman, whom I had previously seen mostly as Mr. Herkabe, Malcolm in the Middle‘s hilariously evil teacher. In Metropolitan he’s just as witty and smart and pretentious and funny, just not evil. I was also thought he looked frighteningly like Frankie Muniz. Mr. Herkabe is supposed to be sort of a bitter and burned-out older Malcolm, so I suppose it makes a certain kind of sense. I wonder if that had anything to do with his casting?

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3 Responses to “Metropolitan, and Mansfield Park”

  1. Rachael Says:

    I love that you felt this way about Metropolitan. I watched it when it came out on a whim and completely fell for Chris Eigeman. He basically always plays the same person (dry, snotty, smart and rich) in every part I’ve ever seen him in (even the Gilmore Girls) but he plays it with more energy and humor than most of the actors/parts around. If you haven’t seen them, I’d totally recommend Whit Stillman’s other two movies, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco, and a movie called Kicking and Screaming (1995) by Noah Baumbach. They’re all good and Chris Eigeman’s in all of them.

  2. mrlauer Says:

    Barcelona and Kicking and Screaming are in my netflix queue even now; The Last Days of Disco seems not to be currently available(!). I also very much enjoyed Mr Jealousy, another Noah Baumbach film with Eigeman.

  3. Trilling on Mansfield Park « Michael Lauer’s Weblog Says:

    [...] on Mansfield Park Inspired by Metropolitan, I finally got around to reading Lionel Trilling’s essay on Mansfield Park.1 Hie yourselves [...]

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