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?