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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

DVD+Digital: The melancholy comedy of Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco

Posted by on Wed, Jul 25, 2012 at 11:04 AM

  • Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

Writer/director Whit Stillman's films are populated by wealthy young people—preppies, snobs, One Percenters in the larval stage—and we shouldn't really like them.

And yet we do. In fact, we come to sort of love them, and if Whit Stillman can claim anything on his deathbed, it's that: He made yuppies loveable.

Stillman's loosely connected 1990s trilogy of films—Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco—feature young members of the privileged classes making their way into the wider world. Stillman returned to theaters earlier this year with Damsels in Distress, a more broadly funny take on his template of arch, literate comedy.

METROPOLITAN and THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO have been reissued to Blu-ray this by the Criterion Collection this week, with restored picture, sound and a few modest extras. There's something fragile and rather lovely about Stillman's brand of melancholy cocktail comedy, and it's nice to have him back in the mix.

Metropolitan is Stillman's first film, a true indie which he wrote, filmed and financed himself. Shot guerilla-style in New York City, the story follows a group of upper-class, overeducated college students as they make the circuit of Manhattan debutante balls and after-parties.

Tom Townsend (Edwards Clements) is the odd man out in this group, whose secret is that he isn't really rich at all, and lives with his divorced mom in a modest flat downtown. The others in the group each have their roles—the jaded dandy, the intellectual nebbish, the “good girl”....

Metropolitan won an Oscar nomination for its over-articulate screenplay, but what really endures is the comic empathy underneath. The characters know that their social schedule is a rickety artifact of old money tradition. Debutante balls? Really? But they go through the motions anyway—it's what one does—and sublimate their fears of the real world into airy bon mots. It's about the sadness of things ending, really, but loyalty and decency prevail.

The Last Days of Disco fast forwards the action a few years to the nightclub-and-cocaine party scene in Manhattan. Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny headline as assistant editors at a New York publishing house who spend their evenings at a vaguely Studio-54-like club in the city.

The stakes are a little higher in Disco, and the people are different (although some characters from Metropolitan make cameos). But the dispositions and concerns are the same. Stillman's comic touch is so light, so dry and understated, that it's easy to miss all the funny scenarios he weaves into the film. I particularly liked the extended gag where the drug-dealing doorman has to sneak his advertising industry friend into the disco, since the boss doesn't really want that element at the party.

Stillman has annexed his own small moviemaking domain with the few films that he's made. His creations are delicate things, and depend greatly on simpatico performers to deliver the good-natured ridiculousness beneath the yuppie comedy of manners. With American class resentments approaching a real boiling point, Stillman provides a reminder: Rich people are people, too.

Format: Blu-ray

Extras: Commentary tracks from Stillman and some of the actors on both discs; Metropolitan has some alternate casting takes and Disco features deleted scenes and a short making-of doc. Audio and video specs have been upgraded on both films, although Metropolitan remains grainy and retains the original mono soundtrack. Obsessive fans and film students will find good stories in the commentaries, the rest is pretty disposable.

Also New This Week:

Rachel Weisz stars in the British historical drama THE DEEP BLUE SEA, based on the Terrence Rattigan play.

Elizabeth Olsen makes unpleasant discoveries at her family's vacation home in the indie horror film SILENT HOUSE.

The 2011 documentary JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI details the life of an unassuming 85-year-old Japanese restaurant owner considered by many the best sushi chef in the world.

Plus: TV-on-DVD collections from BOSS, MASTERPIECE MYSTERY and the Blu-ray debut of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION.

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