`Metroland': Ties That Bind: Domesticity's Pull Not Fully Explored

Article excerpt

The British film "Metroland," derived from a novel of the late 1980s by Julian Barnes, evokes a time frame and subject matter that overlap in potentially revealing ways with the best American movie of recent weeks, "A Walk on the Moon." But it appears to settle for trite and commonplace notes of affirmation when something a little stronger (and perhaps funnier) isn't all that far out of reach.

The "present" in "Metroland" (which alludes to suburban havens at the end of the London commuter rail system) is 1977. A young suburban couple, Chris and Marion, played by Christian Bale and Emily Watson, suffer brief infiltration by a snake in the grass: Lee Ross as Toni, Chris' best chum from school days in the early 1960s.

Renewing the connection after several years, Toni threatens the domestic security and contentment of his hosts with hints of a vagabond, libertine way of life that they abandoned - or never found appealing in the first place.

An extended Parisian flashback set in 1968 reveals that Chris enjoyed a bohemian interlude. As an aspiring photographer, he fell in love with the city and lost his virginity to an amorous prop called Annick (Elsa Zylberstein). The political uproar of 1968 also punctuates the background, confined to documentary footage of rallies and conflagrations that have no bearing on Chris' activities in the foreground.

Ultimately, a chance meeting with Marion, vacationing in the city, sets the stage for his repatriation and embrace of a conventional life a decade later.

The movie lacks adequately effective contrasts between the fleeting appeal embodied by Annick and the permanent one associated with Marion. There is a certain novelty interest in the sheer cuteness of seeing Mr. Bale and Miss Watson cast as nice young homebodies, the parents of an infant daughter. Moreover, it's pretty much taken for granted that their stake in domesticity is an admirable one, not to be sneered at lightly or enviously by the promiscuous, troublemaking Tonis of the world. …