Metroland (1997)


(director: Philip Saville; screenwriters: Adrian Hodge/based on the novel by Julian Barnes; cinematographer: Jean-François Robin; editor: Greg Miller; cast: Christian Bale (Chris Lloyd), Emily Watson (Marion), Lee Ross (Toni), Elsa Zylberstein (Annick), John Wood (Retired Commuter); Runtime: 105; Lions Gate Releasing; 1997-UK)
“The film flips back and forth between the Beatlemania-era of the early ’60s and their suburban period of the ’70s.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The phone rings at 5:30 a.m. in the Lloyd’s home (made up of advertising man Chris Lloyd (Bale) and his wife Marion (Watson) and their baby girl). When the phone rings that early, Marion says she expects bad news. It’s 1977 and this bourgeois couple, in their early 30s, live in the London suburb of Eastwood, a typical English bedroom suburban community with a commuter train to the city. It’s a community once optimistically dubbed the place of the future that had plans to link its commuter railroad all over England and to the continent, but all that fell through. A retired commuter (Wood) will tell Chris on his last commute, after 45-years, that “Metroland is not a place, but a state of mind.”

The trouble, on the phone, turns out to be Toni (Ross), the best friend of Chris, someone who is a reminder of his rebellious days as a bohemian in the ’60s and someone Marion detests for his anger and the blame he casts on others for his failure to be a recognized poet. He is Chris’ lifelong friend someone he has lost contact with for the past 5-years, except for the occasional postcard like the one that said: “Africa’s where it’s happening. Vibrant culture. Great people. Thinking of hanging out here for a while. Eat the rich. Love, Toni.” If I got a postcard like that, I would think of getting a new best friend. Anyway, that is the beginning of a cliché-ridden story about Chris’s mid-life crisis and his decision to live in the suburbs. He is yearning for the good old days of being free from marriage and responsibilities. Toni tells him that when he looks at him now, it is like looking at his parents.

This is a story which turns out to be so flat and without emotion, and plays like a film you can almost swear you saw before even if you didn’t.

Toni fills Chris in on his life telling him that he was teaching a writing course in California and seducing his female students, and he was also a world-wide traveler. He is constantly berating his friend for being bourgeois and about his decision to go from being a free-lance photographer living in Paris to his middle-class situation here. We have to take the filmmaker’s word that Toni is a poet because he appears more like an obnoxious jerk, offering no evidence in the film that he shows even enough intelligence to spell poet let alone to be one.

The film flips back and forth between the Beatlemania-era of the early ’60s and their suburban period of the ’70s, as it uses the means of flashback to show Chris then and now, as he wonders how his life would have turned out if he stayed with his upfront, sexually free girlfriend in Paris, Annick (Zylberstein). She had no trouble fitting in with the other actors playing their parts, as she also gave a zombie-like performance. Chris, as a bohemian, was too pathetic to seriously believe and not funny enough to be a comedian. But what was really laughable, was the filmmaker’s bourgeois conception of what a bohemian is.

The film, in a predictable way, tells about the friend who is not the friend he pretends to be, but someone who is jealous of his friend’ material comforts and satisfying marriage. The task of getting all this straight for our befuddled hero’s handsome head is given to his solid wife, and she will tell our hero this even if he finds it so hard to believe. At least, he never claimed to be Einstein.

There was one great line of dialogue and it comes from Marion, as she tells her hubby: “You married because you are not original enough not to.” The worst line in the movie is when Chris realizes he has a good thing going with Marion and tells her his reason for not fooling around with another woman, “Who wants fast-food if you can eat at the Ritz.”