National Review Online has been running a little series this week on the 25 best conservative movies of the last 25 years, and thrown in some also-rans as well. Lists like these are fun, but they are also a great opportunity to see how your opinion of a work of art, in this case a movie, stacks up against the opinions of the “elites” who make such lists.
Every movie on the list can arguably be said to deserve inclusion, except one, in my view. I was shocked (shocked!) to see that Metropolitan came in at number three. My first thought when reading the short review was that this can’t be—that movie was horrible! So I cannot just let this slide, lest some other well-meaning conservative (or classical liberal) rent the movie and inflict it on their significant others. For alas, that is my story.
For whatever reason, I pick all the movies in our family, unless the kids want something particular. So I’m always on the line about the quality of the picks. If it’s a great movie, it’s a great movie, and I’m a fine gentleman. But if it sucks, I get the “Why in the world would you pick such a stupid movie?” routine. ("Actually, dear, I did it on purpose so that we could suffer together for two hours.") After twenty-plus years I’m a bit sensitive about it, I’ll admit.
I read somewhere—and I’m pretty sure it was National Review, the non-green version—that Metropolitan was a fantastic movie. So I hopped on blockbuster.com, put it at the top of my queue, and waited in eager anticipation. Then one Saturday evening my wife and I put it in the DVD player and looked forward to relaxing with a good movie by the fire. Twenty minutes into the film, my wife looked at me as if I had two heads. She went to bed. I endured a while longer, trying to figure out what in the world made this such a great movie.
I couldn’t make it all the way through.
In case you aren’t familiar with it (you happy multitudes!), the movie is about a group of twentysomething New York City socialites who apparently have nothing better to do than sit around in tuxedos and evening gowns talking about really deep and trivial stuff. At first the Mrs. and I thought the film had something of a Woody Allen vibe, but it didn’t take long to realize the connection was that Metropolitan was as annoying as Allen at his worst. The pretensions dripped like chilled molasses.
I have it on good authority that Whit Stillman, the film’s writer and director, is a conservative, which might explain how this donkey could end up on such a list. I would greatly like to think that conservatives would be more discerning than to like something just because one of their own made it, but I can’t think of any other reason this would get such rave reviews.
However, it wasn’t just conservatives who liked it. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for its screenplay and received several awards from other low-discernment organizations.
So, I went to an objective expert who does not care much for politics. Asked by yours truly how this moviecould rate so high, Sam Karnick, the proprietor of this website and an accomplished film critic himself, replied:
It’s an OK movie, but his attempt to deal with Evelyn Waugh subject matter in the modern era is a flop, because he’s no Evelyn Waugh, or even a Ronald Firbank.
Sam, too, thought it “absurdly overrated.”
My wife and I are not literary types, although like many people we love to read, though we never find enough time to do so as much as we’d like. As a result, I can’t vouch for Sam’s comparisons to Waugh and Firbank, but for this regular Joe right-winger and his right-winger wife, Metropolitan is not even OK.
I read the plot synopsis, and thought “Who cares what a bunch of drunken snobs and arrogant socialites think about anything? Let alone have to pay for the agony of watching them.” Ooh-rah for Heartbreak Ridge! Semper Fi
I read the City Journal article. One thing. It says the movie takes place in the late 60s, but I was under the impression it was the late 80s. There seems to be no definitive answer on this.
Anyway, I enjoyed the article and the author’s interpretation of the Stillman’s movies. Nothing I can disagree with there. So Metropolitan may be a worthy movie in that it says good stuff, but that doesn’t make it a good move. If I watched it again I might have a different reaction with what I know now, but I might not.
So even if it does belong in the top 25, I would still have to agree with Sam that at number 3 it is “absurdly overrated.”
Mr. Smoothie, I’m nothing if not open minded. I think this is much easier than having to watch it four more times and trying to figure it out on my own. I’ve printed the article out and look forward to seeing what Ms. Magnet has to say. Thanks for pointing it out.
Check out this article from City Journal. I read this before I ever saw “Metropolitan”. I think it makes a good case for why this is a worthy movie…
Sorry. That date was just over THIRTY years ago.
It seemed as if THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH would never end.
Yeah, Mike, there’s a lot riding on picking a good one.
Jim, “admirable and necessary”? I didn’t bother to really notice the words of the review much, because I was so focused on the three. But I would like someone to point out to me what was so “admirable and necessary” about these debutants, as they were called somewhere, and what they said. There was some reference to Nietzsche at the beginning, which was promising, but it was all downhill from there, in my humble opinion.
Whew! This comes as great relief to me as my review of Heartbreak Ridge for NR’s list has come in for some criticism. (Which I defend more fully here).
I have to admit that I’d never heard of this movie, and was puzzled as to why it would be No. 3 — not just because I hadn’t heard of it, but because the description seemed so … blah. It seemed to me that the biggest defense of the movie — summed up in the close of the 100-word constraint — was that it celebrated “what is admirable and necessary in the customs and conventions of America’s upper class.”
Pardon this middle-class guy for not nodding in unison. Sure, most Hollywood productions mock the upper classes mercilessly. In fact, Metropolitan may be the only movie in the last 25 years to resist the temptation. But I find it odd that NR would laud a movie that celebrates the upper classes when “conservatism is only for the rich” is one of the movement’s most persistent and unfair criticisms from the left.
To my mind, conservatism has no class — meaning, of course, that its sound principles apply to all socieo-economic categories. What’s Right is right, by and large, no matter if you are the son of a middle-manager like me, or spent your childhood summers on the Hamptons. Putting a movie at No. 3 that counters that truism puzzles me.
I remember taking a girl out for dinner and a movie over forty years ago and making the mistake of attending THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976):
I wound up telling her, “Not tonight, I have a headache.”
David, life is too short! And since your ancestors were apes, I can see why I’ll likely never “get it.” I guess I can see the attempt at Austen, but I’ve enjoyed those made into movies (I think I might have War and Peace, but the closest I got to reading it was using it as a paper weight).
But even if I came to appreciate it some, the movie should not be in the top 25, let alone number 3. I noticed that The Passion of The Christ wasn’t on there, but Metropolitan was???
I’m like you, I didn’t get it. I found it charming, but it seemed like a movie about banter for banter’s sake. Of course, I dismissed my lack of appreciate as my own stupidity because it LOOKS like it’s saying more than it is.
And it’s odd that the characters seem to act like they have these deep relationships and the span of the movie is like a week.
I, too, did not get why it was on the list, but I figured it was because it was a WASPy Woody Allen movie.
Watch it again. If it still sucks to you, try it again. If it still doesn’t sink in, give it another try. In my own personal ascent from ape to human, this kind of exercise has borne fruit. Whit Stillman is not a guy to be taken lightly. Do you like Jane Austen or Tolstoy? Stillman is shooting for that kind of viewer, and achieves it with grace. He’s likely not a conservative in the current sense, but is old-fashioned enough to not quite appreciate the distinction between old liberalism and new conservatism, if there is one.
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