WASP vs Jewish elitism
One aspect of Metropolitan that I obviously left out in the post below is that the college freshmen characters belong to what one of them calls the "Urban Haute Bourgeoisie," a humanizing term for WASPy preppies. Fascinated by this movie (and by Barcelona, which I just saw), I've been reading lots of commentary on Stillman's work, as well as interviews with him. One thing that really seems to stick in some people's craw is the audacity he had to only portray well-off WASPs -- and in a human light! Not as the diabolical rapists and murderers you'd expect them to be, judging from their appearances on Law & Order. Stillman, in his defense, cites Samuel Johnson's suggestion that one should write about what one knows from personal experience, which in the director's case would be the UHB.
Another famous director who writes "talky," witty dialogue for privileged upper-middle class Manhattanites is Woody Allen, but he doesn't seem to draw the ire of as many critics with his own brand of "classism." In interviews, he readily admits that he is only capable of depicting well-off Manhattanites because that's what he knows from experience. The only pronounced differences are that Allen's casts feature a far greater number of Jewish characters, and that Stillman's movies are more socially conservative. Either could plausibly account for the discrepancy between reactions to the respective director's emphasis on Jewish vs WASPy urban elites: both WASP ethnicity and caring about rules and manners are out of fashion.
But regardless of what one thinks of the movies themselves, and focusing as some critics do only on which elite ethnic group and class is being depicted -- whose characters are more clichéd by now? Well-to-do Jewish professionals inhabiting the expensive Upper West Side have been a staple in movies and TV shows for several decades already, so a peek into the lives of WASPs is something of a breath of fresh air. Don't get me wrong -- I like a lot of Woody Allen's movies, and I think it's silly to level charges of classism against a work of art. But if we're going to look at which director tends to receive more pardons for elitism and insularity of viewpoint, let's get real.
(Warning: any chauvinist comments will be deleted, whether anti-Semitic or "pro-Semitic.")