Metroland

1997, Movie, NR, 99 mins

Review

METROLAND
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Suburban angst, UK style. English schoolboys Chris (Christian Bale) and Toni (Lee Ross) grew up despising their suburban hometown -- part of the generic "Metroland," the sprawl at the outer ends of metropolitan train lines -- wishing they were French and cool, and swearing that they'd never succumb to bourgeois complacency. Come the '80s, Toni and Chris are in their 20s and their lives have taken very different paths. Chris works for an advertising agency and is married to Marion (Emily Watson), the fresh-faced English girl he met in Paris, where he was living with French free spirit Annick (Elsa Zylberstein) and unsuccessfully pursuing his dreams of being an art photographer. Chris and Marion now have a small house in, yes, the dreaded Metroland. The rootless Toni, meanwhile, is still living like a kid, taking off for exotic places without notice, hanging out all night in clubs and flitting from girlfriend to girlfriend. When Toni comes to stay with Chris and Marion, his presence arouses Chris's deeply-repressed suspicions that he may have unwittingly sold out and settled for exactly the kind of life he used to hold in such contempt. Based on the acclaimed novel by Julian Barnes (Flaubert's Parrot), this slight story of youthful dreams and adult compromise is bolstered by finely modulated performances from the three leads. The brittle delicacy of Barnes' book, much of which is imbedded in the language, doesn't translate especially well to the screen; the '80s setting feels arbitrary, and Bale and Ross aren't entirely convincing adolescents in the flashback sequences. But the movie's quiet thoughtfulness is a welcome change from the coarse, juvenile bravado that makes Hollywood movies on the same general subject so shallow and unsatisfying. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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