Polygram // 1998 // 113 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dean Roddey (Retired) // October 30th, 1999
Ladies looking for love at the end of the disco era.
The Last Days of Disco is another film from Whit Stillman, the director of Barcelona and Metropolitan. For many people, Metropolitan was a bit too much of up town yuppies examining their own navels, though I liked it pretty much. Barcelona was completely hilarious so I wanted to check this film out and see what it was like. Though I didn't think it was a good as Barcelona, it follows very much in that vein and worked pretty well.
If you aren't familiar with Stillman's work, it's generally concerned with characters who are very intelligent, usually upwardly mobile east coast urbanites, a little bit unbelievably articulate, and consumed with personal and inter-personal issues that (in the larger scheme of world problems) might be considered completely trivial. Basically it's a kind of '90s form of a Woody Allen flick, with yuppie-WASPy neuroses instead of Jewish ones. But, let's face it, these trivial issues of relationships, life direction, and career are the ones that we all obsess about the most anyway, right?
But, on to the synopsis lest I wax overly philosophical myself. The rather light story line of the film is that of two young women, recently graduated, who are as quickly as possible trying to become jaded urban yuppies in the late '80s as the disco era is about to come crashing down. They are looking for love, careers, affordable housing, and nightlife, not necessarily in that order. The girls are Alice, played by Chloë Sevigny (Trees Lounge, Palmetto, Kids) and Charlotte, played by Kate Beckinsale (Cold Comfort Farm, Much Ado About Nothing). Kate is actually quite English, but does a totally flawless American accent.
The men in the equation are Des, played by Christopher Eigeman (Metropolitan, Barcelona); Josh, played by Matthew Keeslar (Waiting for Guffman, Quiz Show); and Jimmy, played MacKinzie Astin (Wyatt Earp, In Love and War). Des is a co-owner of the hottest disco club in town, working for a rather unsavory character who is doing a lot of creative accounting. Josh is a budding assistant DA, who it turns out is actually investigating the club. And Jimmy works at the same publishing company where Alice and Charlotte work as lowly assistant editor wannabes. Alice and Charlotte, who went to school together, finally find a place and move in with another old schoolmate, Holly, played by Tara Subkoff (Freeway, As Good as It Gets).
The rest of the story is basically the equivalent of four or five romantic comedies put into a Cuisinart and roughly chopped. The complicated friendships and relationships are confused even more by the blossoming promiscuity of the times. Partners and infections are freely exchanged, as everyone tries to find the one for them (partners I mean, not infections).
This film was closer to Barcelona in that it is a light comedy, and the dialogue and situations are quite similar. In fact there are some cute references to Barcelona worked into the story. The dialogue is a little too ornate to be believable sometimes, but it's delivered well. The humor is very dry in most cases, and delivered completely deadpan. Being a pseudo-intellectual myself, I like this kind of stuff and laughed out loud many times, as I did during Barcelona. Also, like Barcelona, it's partly comedy and partly drama and does step around some deeper issues while laughing at them.
In the end, the relationship deck has been thoroughly shuffled, disco is dead, and most of the characters are left unemployed and facing the reality of their youth being over. Only Alice, probably the only truly decent person of the bunch, comes out ahead, having done a dramatic career save when one of the books deals she made for the publishing company turned out to be a hoax.
Like Boogie Nights, this film's soundtrack is fueled by lots of throbbing disco music. Having been a confirmed disco hater, it was a lot like watching intravenous drug use scenes. But, it's very well mixed, sounds great in the 5.1 sound track, and obviously fits the story perfectly. It didn't make me want to wear gold chains, and all my chest hair has now migrated to my back anyway, but if you liked it, you'll love the sound track.
The anamorphic video transfer looks very good. It's not record-setting sharp, but I had no complaints. Nothing ever distracted me from the story by looking out of place. The club scenes are full of the outrageous clothes that made up the (so called) fashion of the disco era, so it's definitely a colorfest deluxe.
As should be obvious from the above description, if you find intellectual and semi-pretentious characters spewing a form of modern American Shakespearean prose while examining their collective navels, you'll completely hate this film. It's an acquired taste, I guess. If you hated Barcelona or Metropolitan, you'll want to skip this one definitely, since it's a bit of a mix of them both.
There aren't any real extras, which is a bummer. I'd love to have a commentary track from the director on this one, since I've enjoyed all his work and would like to find out what makes him tick.
The vocals in a few places are a little muddled and low in the mix, making the complex language hard to catch. Particularly a few places in the club it was hard to catch what was being said.
Personally, I liked it. It wasn't as good as Barcelona, and it probably better be the last movie Stillman makes in this genre or he's going to overstay his welcome; but, what is welcome is this kind of intelligent comedic material that's well delivered. There's a certain euphoric afterglow to reliving the fall of disco, so perhaps this influenced my decisions, you be the judge (no wait...I'm the judge. Belay that order, ensign). And, unlike most of this type of material in the past, it's even presented in a clean anamorphic transfer and a 5.1 sound track.
The defendant used a buncha them big faincy words, and got me all confused. So I guess I got no choice but to acquit him.
Review content copyright © 1999 Dean Roddey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer