What can I saw about Whit Stillman other than that he should make more movies? What’s he doing? With accolades pouring in, including a nomination for Best Original Screenplay for Metropolitan, Stillman probably has the cache to have done a lot more. Maybe he works slowly, but dialogue like his is in short supply in Hollywood these days.
Stillman has cited Jane Austen as an influence, and you can see it in his stories of a small circle of friends and acquaintances who meet in specific environments, pair off, break up, and talk about each other. But one can also see someone of the classic Hollywood comedy or a Tom Stoppard stage play in the witty banter. And while Stillman is a good director and a great writer/director, the strength of his films definitely lies in the dialogue.
One could argue that the films’ characters are all shallow, the anti-establishment intellectuals hypocritical, the subject matter trite. But the films are none of these things. Stillman has somehow managed to transcend the milieu he himself is/was apparently part of to create films with characters and situations I relate to while simultaneously realizing that I have nothing at all in common with them. In fact, I don’t particularly like most of the characters, except perhaps those portrayed by Chris Eigeman (Nick in Metropolitan and Des in Disco). Which is funny, really, as Eigeman’s roles embody everything trite, shallow, and chauvinistic; at least he’s honest, in his way, and besides that he’s one of the most entertaining actors I’ve ever watched defend the Tramp (from Lady and the…). Definitely of the lovable rogue type, and someone you want at your party but not otherwise in your life. In fact, most of these people are more entertaining than likable, and since we’re watching a movie instead of living with them that’s okay.
I’m not discussing Barcelona, Stillman’s second film, because I’ve only seen it once and didn’t much care for it. Sure, it had the banter along with banter’s premier stylist Chris Eigeman, but I felt that it was trying too hard to break out of the self-contained worlds of the other two by drawing in Cold War current events from Spain in the early 80’s. It didn’t help the flow of the film, I thought, to take us away from the characters Stillman writes so well. Metropolitan and Last Days of Disco work precisely because we are forced to live in the world of debutant preppies and yuppie disco fans for the course of two hours each, without reference to our “normal” lives. The isolation sets a kind of stage on which Stillman’s self-involved characters become interesting and important to someone other than themselves; namely the audience.