The Last Days of Disco

          In 1990, METROPOLITAN announced the arrival of a new and
  fascinating voice in films, writer-director Whit Stillman. Audience were
  divided over the film, which was quite literate and literary in its depiction
   of the crumbling world of the urban
haute bourgeoisie. METROPOLITAN
  was a modern-day Jane Austen tale filled with intelligent dialogue that
  earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. As a true
  Stillman takes deliberate care with his films which slows his output. It
  was four years before his second film, the equally talky
  released and another four before his latest,
  Stillman groupies can rejoice, because it was worth the wait.

          Much has been made in the press over the similarities between a
  spate of recent movies that feature disco music and in an effort to
  pigeonhole the films, comparisons are made. Let me say at the outset
  that while
THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO is set in the early 1980s and it
  features several scenes at a popular nightclub, it is not a disco movie
  in the same way that the upcoming
54 is. As he has done with his other
  films, Stillman uses a social upheaval (in this case the decline of the disco
  culture) as the background against which to explore and examine
  relationships. His characters are intelligent, upper- crust youth at the
  start of their working careers. There is usually an autobiographical
  element to Stillman's work and he has said in interviews that what partly
  inspired him was his days working as lowly editorial assistant at
  Doubleday. It was a perfect job that allowed him to sample the club
  culture of the early 1980s, when places like Studio 54 were the hot
  spots to be. In the case of
DISCO, he has chosen to filter the story
  primarily through a female sensibility.

          What plot the film has revolves around Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale)
  and Alice (Chloe Sevigny), two recent Ivy League graduates who hold
  low-level publishing jobs by day and frequent "The Club" (it is not
  identified in any other way) by night where they rub elbows with other
  like-minded types. They interact with a group that includes a sexual
  predator (Robert Sean Leonard), an advertising executive (Mackenzie
  Astin), an assistant district attorney (Matt Keeslar) and the club's
  manager (Chris Eigeman), among others. As the disco culture declines,
  the group forms shifting alliances and relationships and there is a subplot
  about illegal doings at the club that neatly ties together the various
  strands. As in a novel, each character is finely drawn and given at least
  one moment to shine.

          Stillman's characters required a stylization and approach that is
  unique to his work (in much the same way as David Mamet or Restoration
  comedy do) and he has found a terrific cast. Chris Eigeman seems to be
  Stillman's rabbit's foot, having appeared in all three films and the one
  TV show episode Stillman directed, NBC's
. Once again, the actor brings his sardonic wit to another
  character that could be unlikable in lesser hands. Eigeman has such
  a winning presence that he makes palatable these arrogant characters.
  Beckinsale is wonderful as his female counterpart. Best-known for
  appearing in British period pieces, this petite actress shines, mastering
  a flawless American accent and walking the fine line between bitchiness
  and sincerity. Keeslar registers as a neophyte lawyer who suffers from
  manic depression and there are cameos from figures from earlier
  Stillman films, notably Taylor Nichols who reprises both Charlie from
 METROPOLITAN and the slicker Ted of BARCELONA. But the film really
  belongs to Chloe Sevigny as Alice. Light years away from her previous
  roles in films like
KIDS and TREES LOUNGE, this rising actress
  solidifies her rank as one of the most promising actresses in her age
  range, delivering a memorable portrait of a slightly unsure girl
  blossoming into a confident woman. Her character makes mistakes
  but manages to turn those errors to her behalf and Sevigny is both
  endearing and touching in the role. If there's any justice, this
  performance will open doors for her.

          With a strong soundtrack, (including everything from Blondie's
  "Heart of Glass" to "I Love the Nightlife") intelligent script, assured
  direction and fine performances (even down to the minor characters),
THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO ranks as another achievement for Stillman.

Rating:                B+
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.