The Austin Chronicle

The Last Days of Disco

Rated R, 120 min. Directed by Whit Stillman. Starring Chloe Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale, Chris Eigeman, Matt Keeslar, Mackenzie Astin, Matthew Ross, Robert Sean Leonard, Jennifer Beals.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., June 5, 1998

Despite the title of Whit Stillman's latest film, the milieu is not the message: This ain't no party, this ain't no disco. Rather, The Last Days of Disco is yet another auteurish meditation on the young and the privileged -- some might call them yuppies -- in the same vein of Stillman's two other films, Metropolitan and Barcelona. While the film observes the waning zeitgeist of the disco era in early 1980s New York City, its setting has little thematic linkage to the many dramas that play out during its course. This isn't a movie about the tyranny of the velvet rope, the perils of casual hedonism, or the allure of greed, although those observations are made at one point or another. Instead, it is a story about loyalty, friendship, and honor. In other words, it's less titillating than you might expect. (What a more interesting film it might have been had it pondered the sociological theory that the yuppie infiltration of the big-city club scene contributed to the death of disco.) Yet, Stillman's direction and dialogue here seem looser, more hip than in his previous outings: Two suitors vying for the same woman engage in a pointed deconstruction of Lady and the Tramp; an impromptu, after-hours dance of flirtation slyly moves from the living room to the bedroom. The screenplay is also evenhanded in its portraiture of the twentysomething preppie in the first years of the Reagan decade, arguably to a fault. These are characters drawn with little judgmental sentiment; inevitably, the perspective is too objective. And for those with a predisposed bias against the prototype Stillman character -- white, straight, moneyed -- The Last Days of Disco may be an ordeal: Who in the world cares about these people? (It's the similar reaction the same viewer might have when reading the novels of Cheever or Updike.) Given his seeming mission to chronicle the lives of this particular American subculture in his films, prompted no doubt by his personal experience and lineage, Stillman is a unique voice in independent American cinema. Whether you consider him Proustian in his focus or a filmmaker stuck in the proverbial rut depends upon your perspective. Whatever that perspective might be, The Last Days of Disco will only give it more credence.

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