Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger says this erotic, semi-gay, dramatic, Canadian comedy pushes about half of the right buttons.
When art inspires forbidden passion…
Leaving Metropolis is one of those failures that are interesting to deconstruct. The movie has heart and purpose, fueled by snappy attitude and a willingness to take risks. However, it is stalled by gaps in logic and time, burdened by clunky dialogue, and peopled with cardboard characters. Yet those characters occasionally manage to shine brilliantly, and the dialogue often connects. Leaving Metropolis is eminently watchable but frustrating to watch, leaving you wishing it had reached its potential.
Facts of the Case
Leaving Metropolis concerns two triangles that intersect around David. David (Troy Ruptash, MVP 2: Most Vertical Primate) is a famous gay painter whose success has brought creative stagnation. His roommate Shannon (Thom Allison) is a pre-operative transsexual with HIV, and his best friend Kryla (Lynda Boyd, Final Destination 2, I Spy, Ranma 1/2) is a jaded newspaper columnist. The trio share inside jokes and carp to each other about the bitterness of life.
The second triangle forms when David seeks a job as a waiter to rekindle his creative juices. The Main Street Diner, run by spouses Violet (Cherilee Taylor, Masterpiece Monday) and Matt (Vince Corazza, Owning Mahowny, Bride of Chucky, Sailor Moon R: The Movie—The Promise of the Rose), provides the perfect environment for David to replenish his creative energies. He unexpectedly finds a muse in the diner, none other than his boss/pupil Matt.
David tries to keep the trios separate, but when his four friends interact, it leads to unintended consequences. Emotions, relationships, and lives are at stake when David finds his inspiration.
When I stated that "Leaving Metropolis is eminently watchable but frustrating to watch" it was fairly high praise. I don't lightly label films as eminently watchable. Canadian cinema has a quirky freshness that draws me in and makes me want to see what will become of its outrageous characters. Leaving Metropolis explores stylized but meaningful relationships with the key people in David's life. Each conversation is laden with emotional weight, which gives the movie a necessary dose of credibility.
That credibility, however, is frequently cashed in. Leaving Metropolis gains a head of steam, then bursts the bubble with intermittent clunkers. One of the most frequent offenders is a stream of contrived references to Superman. The characters are constantly discussing Superman, but we have no idea why or what it is supposed to mean. Personally, I rarely discuss comic book characters in daily conversation. Are these scenes supposed to make us laugh, or draw some parallel to David? If the latter, what is mined here in the Superman analogy that hasn't been done to death in other films?
For every head-scratching, brake-squealing moment, there is an equivalent moment of poignant humor. Writer-director Brad Fraser is a playwright, so snappy dialogue is something of a forte for him. He gives each character a cadre of stinging rejoinders, and they zip them back and forth with aplomb. No one is this quick-witted in real life, but we enjoy the pseudo-reality of these friends who are so comfortable with each other that they can make jokes about each other's genitalia over Tournedos of Beef and Salmon and a glass of Sangiovese.
Leaving Metropolis has its roots in the stage, which accounts for most of its problems. The acting is uneven in the film, waffling between stilted and engaging. Each character waits patiently for the other to finish speaking before enunciating the next line, which is periodically ridiculous. The friends flirt with each other by exchanging combinations of "Love you!" "Mean it!" or "Mean you!" "Love it!" Though cute, this is the type of thing that doesn't make sense in the film world. I can practically hear the wooden planks of the stage creaking in the background. Each scene is composed as if on a stage set, occasionally breaking free with a clever pan but essentially giving us a theatrical presentation.
Poor Superman, the parent play of Leaving Metropolis, must have been filled with Superman props. As Fraser relates in the commentary, the cloud of a lawsuit hung over Leaving Metropolis if the film employed any recognizable Superman imagery. It is too late to ask him to scrap the analogies for the film, but they simply don't work. Because his source material was so greatly altered, the editing leaves much to be desired. Transitions are often abrupt, leaving us with the feeling that important information has been left on the cutting room floor. No one can blame Fraser for attempting this conversion—after all, his play has been quite successful. For a first-time director, Fraser shows great promise. I anticipate that his next film, if conceived free from the constraints of a converted play with lawsuit issues, will show vast improvement.
Given the relative lack of visual interest in the film, it is the actors who must carry it. Each of them strikes solid notes at one time or another. Lead actor Troy Ruptash is a good choice, possessing the arrogance, sensitivity, and physical presence to bring David to life. He underacts many scenes, perhaps going for stoic emotional pain but looking bored. At other times, he gives his voice just the right catch to sell a subtle moment. Vince Corazza and Lynda Boyd are the most consistent, using their considerable experience to breathe cinematic life into theatrical dialogue. As Matt's submerged desires come forth, Vince plays him with heavy-lidded eyes and heaving chest. We can almost perceive his awakened sexual feelings. Lynda gives Kryla a becoming blend of jaded cynicism and sensitive indignation. Thom Allison makes the most of a role that mostly bogs things down: a pre-operative transsexual who cannot undergo gender-altering surgery because she has HIV. In fact, the whole HIV thread is another relic from the play that fails to connect. Nonetheless, Thom gives a great performance. Cherilee Taylor isn't given much to do (besides Matt), though she brings strength to an underwritten role.
Speaking of doing Matt, his frequent romps in the sack are fantastic: nakedly erotic but grounded in emotion, which makes them even better. Taylor, Corazza, and Ruptash are what you'd call "beautiful people"; seeing them involved in intimate acts is everything you'd hope for, be you gay or straight.
Equally beautiful are "David"'s paintings, and the camera dwells on them long enough to really let us appreciate the work. Movie art is so often a suggestion of brilliance, as though the characters are oohing and ahhing over artistic nuances we can't grasp. The pivotal painting is a great piece of work, worthy of the stir it causes.
With engaging actors, steamy sex, a hyperactive stream of mostly witty dialogue, and a core of emotional weight, Leaving Metropolis is well worth the time you give it. Meanwhile, poor editing, a wooden vibe, and lots of extraneous information bog it down.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Many of the funniest comebacks are one-liners that are delivered quickly and under the radar. They are so cunningly delivered that we cannot detect them without the magic of subtitles. In fact, the soundtrack of Leaving Metropolis is frequently problematic, leaving us straining to catch what is being said. The pop music soundtrack fits well enough, but the mix is not particularly clean.
The video isn't particularly clean, either, though I applaud the absence of edge enhancement. A rich color palette is used in this film, but even with such bold colors it still feels washed out. There is a strong grain, but it isn't unpleasant.
There aren't many extras. Notably lacking is any material about the play. A comparison between some of the play's scenes and their movie equivalents would have been illuminating. For his part, Brad Fraser gives a lively commentary free of dead spots. Fraser makes a valiant attempt to objectively critique his film by providing explanations for what worked and did not work. His brief apologies for some of the film's most glaring flaws make clear two things: (1) he has received lots of comments on them in the past, and (2) he doesn't really see the problem. He deserves to be enthusiastic about a first film that does so many things right, but I hope that he will heed the criticism and use it to make an even better second film.
Speaking of glaring flaws, I'd call the ending one. There is a point at which the film devolves into soap operatic hysterics, with tears streaming down every face and doom and gloom in every corner as David's perfect world comes crashing down. This melodramatic period is filled with touches so subtle that only Fraser seems to grasp them. It is tricky to find the right balance of emphasizing details while not making the audience feel patronized. This is one place where the commentary really highlights some of the problems with the script.
As soon as I found out that Vince Corazza was the voice of Tuxedo Mask in Sailor Moon, I just couldn't maintain the proper composure. I kept picturing him in his scenes with a long-stemmed rose, ready to swoop in and assist David with dispatching the evil ice queen. Seriously, it is cool to see some anime voice talents in the flesh (Lynda Boyd also has extensive anime dubbing credits).
For a film to be disappointing means that you had a stake in it in the first place. Leaving Metropolis quickly gains your support through clever wordplay and engaging characters. The romance is believably handled, and emotional themes are given dignity. A sexy character piece with a quirky Canadian vibe, this film has a lot to offer if you can get past its awkward delivery.
The court must find Leaving Metropolis guilty, but the sentence is suspended until we are given evidence of a pattern of behavior.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wolfe Video
• Commentary by Director Brad Fraser
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