Le Movie Snob normally doesn’t review TV series. However, considering that the quality of many series exceeds that of what’s on view at the cinéma and that this show takes place in Paris, I felt I should offer my franco-centric perspective.
The Cosmopolitans is Amazon’s second foray into the tele-world; the first was Alpha House which was good, but not HBO-good.
I venture that Amazon’s execs thought bringing in Whit Stillman, a movie director, would be their equivalent of Netflix’s bringing in David Fincher, also a movie director, for their first series, the acclaimed and very successful House Of Cards.
HBO and Netflix: You can relax.
I could understand the reasoning behind their decision. While Stillman’s career has not been as prolific or popular as Fincher’s, his overly-talky brand would seem a natural fit for the pensée– provoking locale of Paris.
Hélas, non. The banter here is just as vacuous as it was in Damsels In Distress, the interiors and dress just as stiff as Metropolitan, and the actors, with the exception of the two names, Adam Brody and Chloë Sevigny, are straight from WASP Central Casting.
To quote their over-aged Italian wingman Sandro (Adriano Giannini), it’s “pathetical.”
The Cosmopolitans reinforces the tiresome Midnight In Paris narrative that Paris is where immature Americans who don’t read must go to write the novel which will stave off their entry into the bourgeois life they inherently crave.
In truth, this is a degradation to the artists who did plant themselves in Paris and blossom. Writers like Art Buchwald who went to Paris on the GI bill, Richard Wright and James Baldwin who went to not be judged by their skin color or sexual orientation, and filmmakers like Jules Dassin and John Barry who had been blacklisted by Hollywood.
That these young people live in Paris defines them as “Parisians” – Jimmy (Adam Brody) states this twice to Julia (Chloë Sevigny) within the first five minutes. This conversation takes place at Café Le Flore, a crowded, noisy café that is an expensive tourist trap for Americans who go to Paris looking for Hemingway. Yes Parisians go there, but wouldn’t these young rogues want to discover their own cafés?
These entitled Gen Y expats of The Cosmopolitans have come to Paris with trust funds to learn French at the Alliance Française (a luxury language school).
Jimmy explains they’re teaching him le français juste which is not even a real French expression. (I’ll bet he also overpaid for the taxi from the airport when he arrived.) In fact, they’re teaching him the formal subjunctive (puis-je), but describing it as such would probably fluster his parvenu identity. He is a Parisian after all. Mais pas un parigot.
There is a French expression, le mot juste, also used in English, to affirm the consideration expended in choosing the precisely correct word. Ironic, non?
Stillman has been living in the City Of Lights for a decade. I’m sure he’s been a regular guest at the kind of elitist American dinner parties I described in my review of Le Week-End. My assumption would explain his unbearable, myopic perspective- a perspective that is more like the recent reality shows Ladies Of London and Made In Chelsea.
The values of these characters are best exemplified by the question asked to Hal by a young parisienne at a dress-up party:
What hotel do you like?
Is this the Paris equivalent of the L.A. qualifier: What do you drive?
I’m guessing yes, because he has an answer even though he’s never stayed in a hotel in Paris.
Those who are fluent in another language are aware that there is an unwritten etiquette for bilingual conversations. One aspect of this code is that when speaking in your mother tongue with others of the same mother tongue, you pronounce foreign names with your mother tongue accent.
Example: If I am at a café in Paris with another American (so, two Americans) and an Italian who is fluent in English- which just happens to be the first scene- I would not say:
I hope to live in Paree forever.
That would be pretentious, non?
Conversely, if the dominant language is French- determined by the proportion of the population of the conversation- I would not pronounce the names of Americans of whom they commonly speak, like politicians, with an American accent. Not only would interrupt the flow of the conversation, it’s very rude.
Example: I’m at a café discussing politics with mostly French people/speakers I would pronounce our most recent unfortunate president’s name
So, my ugh! meter went off when actor Jordan Roundtree (Hal) pronounced “Nanterre” with a perfect French ‘R’ in an English dominated conversation. Adam Brody replied, correctly, with the American pronunciation with a hard ‘R.’
Later, Mr. Roundtree’s pomposity catches up with him. He gossips that a fellow partygoer is a tombeur. Except he pronounces it tohm-BEAR, instead of tohm-BURR.
True cosmopolitan people are like bon vivants– if you say you are, you’re really not.