Whit Stillman

The Cosmopolitans (2014, Whit Stillman)

The Cosmopolitans opens with some visual sarcasm, but it quickly moves to verbal. Writer-director Stillman is somewhat merciless, introducing characters just to comment on the absurd pretentiousness of the principals. Of course, Stillman doesn’t let the observers off easy either. It just takes longer for them to become clear; maybe the American leads are just too obvious.

Cosmopolitans is a series pilot (which, tragically, did not get picked up) and Stillman does spend time establishing his characters. But he doesn’t have much of an epical structure–they meet, they talk, they go to a party–and Stillman’s got no urgency with divulging. More information doesn’t necessarily make the characters more entertaining or more affecting.

The three leads–presumably–are Adam Brody, Jordan Rountree, and Carrie MacLemore. They’re Americans in Paris. Brody and Rountree have claimed Parisian status and probably need to be treated for intense Francophilia. Rountree’s lovesick, Brody’s affably brooding. Meanwhile, MacLemore is in Paris for a guy who abandons her for his writing. Because Frenchman.

Brody and Rountree take themselves way too seriously, while MacLemore has a somewhat better sense of her situation.

Adriano Giannini plays Brody and Rountree’s older, Italian friend who spends most of his time making fun of the Americans. He’s gentle about it, as opposed to Chloë Sevigny, who’s brutal about it. Luckily, Brody and Rountree are so pretentious, they can’t identify the digs as digs. Lots of funny barbs. Lots.

Freddy Åsblom has the showy part of Brody and Rountree’s rich, native friend. He pokes fun at them without Sevigny’s loathing or Giannini’s bewilderment. He ends up with some of the funniest moments.

Of course, eventually it’s Giannini and Sevigny who get revealed–either to another character or just to the viewer (but only because Brody and Rountree are oblivious). Stillman spares no one. He maintains a light tone, affable characters, and an adoration of Paris throughout. The Cosmopolitans might mock its leads’ Francophilia, but the pilot is delightfully drenched in it.

Beautiful photography from Antoine Monod, subtle, sharp editing from Sophie Corra, a great soundtrack–it’s a technical marvel. Stillman’s composition and direction are fantastic.

MacLemore gives the best performance of the leads. Brody and Rountree are a tad shallow, MacLemore has actual backstory and some sense. It’s a better part. Giannini and Sevigny are great; Sevigny’s deliveries are awesome. And Åsblom is quite good. His role is a little more difficult than it seems at first blush.

Again, it’s tragic The Cosmopolitans didn’t go to series; what Stillman and cast and crew did get done is wonderful stuff.

3/3Highly Recommended


Written and directed by Whit Stillman; director of photography, Antoine Monod; edited by Sophie Corra; produced by Alex Corven Caronia; released by Amazon Studios.

Starring Carrie MacLemore (Aubrey), Adam Brody (Jimmy), Jordan Rountree (Hal), Adriano Giannini (Sandro), Freddy Åsblom (Fritz), and Chloë Sevigny (Vicky).

Metropolitan (1990, Whit Stillman)

Metropolitan has an incredibly traditional, incredibly cinematic conclusion, which might be why it’s so funny. But why it’s so perfectly in place is the characters–at least the more intelligent ones–impression of the conclusion. They’re aware it’s the Hollywood ending, but it’s a Hollywood ending in the context of Metropolitan, which is something altogether different.

Whit Stillman creates a playground–a living room, really–and sets eight college students on break loose in it. Stillman’s playground is idealized at the start, as (the viewer–and characters–soon discover) middle-ish class Edward Clements starts hanging out with an upper class group, quite by accident. Everyone seems great–with Chris Eigeman playing the fantastic comic relief. Stillman’s script is, for the first three-quarters, mostly conversations. The conversations pretend to be intellectual, but Stillman is actually going for a punch line. The punch lines are quiet and subtle (the equivalent, I suppose, of a “New Yorker” cartoon) and wonderful.

Cracks in the crystal appear as the narrative progresses, with Eigeman at one point being ostracized for–surprisingly–being a stand-up guy. There’s a decided equality between the men and women at the start and it slowly becomes clear they appear equal only because of Stillman’s approach to the narrative. Once the group is broken apart into factions, reality encroaches and the vacation comes to an end. The film has fast pacing, something about Stillman’s cuts between conversations and his use of transitions–it just moves.

At the end, when conflict and tension arise, Stillman can’t accelerate the pace enough. The threat of danger in the snow globe, it’s almost too much to bear. And Stillman recognizes it and has as much fun with it as possible.

Stillman’s direction is, from the first scene, when a camera scans slightly downward, exquisite. Watching the ways he gets eight people into a frame is a joy. There’s an early shot, a conversation between two people on either side of the screen. The third joins in the mirror, which is a great use of Chekhov’s shotgun. His script, both in terms of dialogue and plot, is similarly excellent. His assuredness makes Metropolitan.

The acting is incredibly important, mainly Carolyn Farina as the female lead. She does a great job (it’s her only lead performance). Clements is good as the male lead, Eigeman’s hilarious in his supporting role. Taylor Nichols is also good, as are Allison Parisi and Dylan Hundley. Bryan Leder’s character spends the majority of the film drunk or recovering from drunkenness and has some great moments.

Metropolitan, with its WASP protagonists (who sit around and argue about what kind of socialist to be), is kind of a hard sell. The film’s McGuffin is the class angst, even though the film’s opening scene is beautifully human and should give away the film’s intentions right off. But Stillman can hide it, because many of the conversations are just so disconnected (it doesn’t hurt everyone’s wearing formal attire). The shots of “regular” New York are some of the film’s larger revelations. Seeing Farina walk down a street, like anyone else, grounds the film and the viewer’s perceptions.

Stillman spends a lot of time playing with the viewer’s impressions of the characters. He simply lops off the part of the narrative where the viewer gets to finally make informed judgments. Metropolitan is about spending ten days with people you’re never going to see again–with a handful of exceptions, of course.

It’s a rewarding vacation.



Written, produced and directed by Whit Stillman; director of photography, John Thomas; edited by Christopher Tellefsen; music by Tom Judson and Mark Suozzo; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Carolyn Farina (Audrey Rouget), Edward Clements (Tom Townsend), Chris Eigeman (Nick Smith), Taylor Nichols (Charlie Black), Allison Parisi (Jane Clark), Dylan Hundley (Sally Fowler), Isabel Gillies (Cynthia McLean), Bryan Leder (Fred Neff), Will Kempe (Rick Von Sloneker) and Ellia Thompson (Serena Slocum).

Barcelona (1994, Whit Stillman)

Barcelona would be, if Whit Stillman had made more than three films and could be accurately categorized, Whit Stillman-lite. The film’s hilarious, with almost every scene ending on a humorous note. These comic moments don’t add up to much. Cousins Taylor Nichols and Chris Eigeman have a conversation at one point about the lack of critical discussion of text (versus subtext). While one could talk ad nauseam about how Nichols and Eigeman–and their actions–represent the Spanish’s perception of Americans, it–just like their conversation about subtext–is garnish. Barcelona is Stillman’s version of a crowd-pleaser and it’s rather successful as one.

Certain elements of the film–whether it’s Stillman’s way of visualizing flashbacks or emphasizing infatuation with someone looking directly into the camera… and especially Nichols’s narration of the events, which isn’t just illogical in terms of point of view but a very cheap narrative trick to escape non-humorous scenes–don’t work. Nichols is a fine actor and his performance is good, but he’s in no way a protagonist, not even as a joke. Stillman asks a character actor to be Glenn Ford and the result is poor–more confusing is how the viewer is supposed to perceive Nichols. Eigeman is a jerk. He’s very funny, he’s likable, he’s sympathetic, but he’s a jerk. Nichols isn’t funny, isn’t a jerk, but Stillman’s frequently asking the viewer to laugh at him. It’s hard for him to be sympathetic, because the jokes are often on him. Nichols tries his best to play this character, but it doesn’t work out. Stillman gives Eigeman a schtick. It’s like if Laurel and Hardy were Laurel and the other guy. Nichols is the other guy and Stillman doesn’t even know what to do with him. He gets to tell the story, I suppose, but the story should play out instead of being told… something Stillman seems to get by the end, when the narration evaporates.

Stillman does a great job with the location shooting. He rarely treats Barcelona as anything special–there’s one sequence where Nichols gives a disinterested Eigeman a tour, but otherwise Stillman’s passive about the whole thing. The exterior scenes, walking down the street for instance, leave the viewer desperate for a little more time to look around and Stillman doesn’t grant it. There are a couple sumptuous scenes–one at a country house, but the narrative turn of events overshadow any scenery (it’s kind of hard to pay attention to the landscape when one’s eyes are tearing up from laughter), and then one other scene… in America. Barcelona, both as a title and a location, suggest a certain exoticness. Stillman never plays into it and it’s a great choice. His direction, along with the constantly funny dialogue, make the film a joy to watch.

The principal female actors, Tushka Bergen and Mira Sorvino, are both fine. Given their roles, it would have been near impossible for anyone to not do so… unless the performance were really terrible. They’re supposed to be enigmatic and funny and both succeed.

Barcelona‘s a great time. It’s definitely pandering (Stillman certainly didn’t flex any artistic muscles here), but it’s good pandering.



Written, produced and directed by Whit Stillman; director of photography, John Thomas; edited by Christopher Tellefsen; music by Mark Suozzo; production designer, José María Botines; released by Fine Line Features.

Starring Chris Eigeman (Fred Boynton), Taylor Nichols (Ted Boynton), Tushka Bergen (Montserrat), Mira Sorvino (Marta), Pep Munné (Ramon), Thomas Gibson (Dickie Taylor) and Jack Gilpin (The Consul).

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