'Chronically Metropolitan': Film Review

Courtesy of Paladin
Makes you long for the provincial.

Shiloh Fernandez, Chris Noth and Mary-Louise Parker appear in Xavier Manrique's comedy about literary Manhattanites.

If you’ve had occasion to regret that your short story was published in The New Yorker to widespread acclaim but then had to face the wrath of friends and loved ones offended by the characters you’ve written based on them, then Xavier Manrique’s debut feature will be your cup of tea. Resembling a Philip Roth novel that the author had the good sense to leave unpublished, Chronically Metropolitan leaves no cliché unturned in its depiction of the social and romantic travails of a group of Upper East Side New Yorkers. They’re the sort of characters who lament how the city has become a “shopping mall filled with tourists,” and while you can agree with the observation, it still comes across as pompous.

Manrique (a protégé of David Frankel, who directed The Devil Wears Prada and serves as executive producer here) and screenwriter Nicholas Schutt provide a depiction of their milieu that somehow feels authentic and artificial at the same time. Shiloh Fernandez plays the central role of Fenton, who has just returned to Manhattan after a self-imposed exile in San Francisco to escape the wrathful fallout of his story’s publication. In the process, he unceremoniously ditched his longtime girlfriend Jessie (Ashely Benson of Pretty Little Liars), who much to his regret is about to marry a British art dealer, the sort who uses words like “donnybrook.”

Fenton soon discovers that his family is even more dysfunctional than when he left. His father Christopher (Chris Noth), a famous novelist/professor and notorious womanizer (is there any other kind?), has just been injured in a car accident caused in part by the sexual favors he was receiving from one of his young female students while he was at the wheel. Christopher’s long-suffering wife Annabel (Mary-Louise Parker) has retreated into a pot-smoking haze, the drugs provided by Fenton’s childhood friend John (Josh Peck), who also happens to now be dating Fenton’s acerbic younger sister Layla (Addison Timlin).

The thin plot mainly concerns Fenton’s efforts to win back Jessie, who seems quite reasonable in her resistance to his entreaties that she ditch her wedding plans. Unfortunately, the romantic angle doesn’t prove particularly interesting, and neither does Fenton’s wrestling with his internal struggle about what kind of writer he wants to be.

The film works best in its smaller, offhand moments, such as when John angrily confronts his old friend over how he was depicted in the short story or Christopher’s rationalizing his licentious ways because, after all, what man could resist all of the sexual possibilities being thrown at him.

That Fernandez never quite convinces as the supposedly soulful, brilliant young writer proves a real impediment. Fortunately, the veterans in the ensemble provide some compensation, with a goateed Noth infusing his familiar-feeling character with intriguing nuances and Parker superbly underplaying as the aggrieved wife who manages to keep her anger boiling mostly below the surface.

Feeling slight and underdeveloped, its storyline failing to sustain interest despite the relatively short running time, Chronically Metropolitan is the sort of film that provides justification for why people in rural areas resent coastal elites.   

Production company: The Film Community
Distributor: Paladin
Cast: Shiloh Fernandez, Ashley Benson, Mary-Louise Parker, Chris Noth, Addison Timlin, Josh Peck
Director-screenwriter: Nicholas Schutt
Producers: Jamin O’Brien, Daniel Blanc, Chuy Hernandez
Executive producers: Jolian Blevins, Tannas Anisi, David Frankel, Nicholas Schutt, Michael Surguladze
Director of photography: Scott Miller
Production designer: Lucio Sexas
Editors: Juan Pablo Cadaveira, Susan E. Morse
Costume designer: Mirren Gordon-Crozier
Composer: Angelo Milli
Casting: Allison Estrin

85 minutes