The Last Days of Disco
This Whit Stillman movie perfectly illustrates how white the disco fad became, but at times, the audience has to wonder if Stillman has any idea about the era that he's trying to capture.
Reviewed by Mike Emery, Fri., Feb. 16, 2001
THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO
D: Whit Stillman (1998); with Chloë Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale, Chris Eigeman, Mackenzie Astin, Robert Sean Leonard.
By the time disco began to dry up, it had become one of the whitest fads around. This film re-emphasizes that fact with a collection of upper-crust, rhythmless malcontents. Nothing new for Stillman, the man behind Metropolitan and Barcelona, but at times, the audience has to wonder if the director has any idea about the era that he's trying to capture. Last Days begins at a Studio 54-type dance mansion. The hip get to drink fancy drinks and dance to tired old pop songs. The not-so-hip line up at the velvet rope. We soon meet a group of WASP buddies who share plenty of college stories. There's Alice (Sevigny), a virginal mouse of a woman; Charlotte (Beckinsale), a gorgeous viper who lives to assault Alice's ego; Des (Eigeman), a self-absorbed bouncer at their club of choice; Jimmy (Astin), a sad-sack ad man; and a few others. They all complain about their corporate status (except Des, whose nightclub job facilitates their nightly whims). There's lots of pontificating about the concept of disco, homosexuality, clothes, literature, Disney films, and other bland subjects. There's also lots of bad dancing, which only reiterates how damned soulless the scene had become by the early Eighties. A side plot involving undercover agents and tax fraud works its way into the picture (à la Studio 54 owner Steve Rubell's troubles with the law), but this is clearly a movie about pre-yuppie twentysomethings and their unending frustration with their privileged lives. To a degree, some of the players are amusing (particularly Eigeman and Beckinsale), and some of the dialogue is funny. But in terms of re-creating the late Seventies, the wardrobe and hairstyles seem very Nineties. Likewise, Stillman's selection of disco tracks is quite predictable (like Chic's "Good Times"). Not bad, but overall, it's merely a showcase for Stillman's smarty-pants scripting and an inept peek at the transition from free-spirited Seventies culture into the money-hungry Eighties.