After seeing this film, I think I understand why disco died. Everybody
was so busy yapping that they simply forgot to dance. At least that's the
way it seems in "The Last Days of Disco," Whit Stillman's entertaining
film about a group of dreadful people. While the satire features a
talented cast maneuvering through a perfunctory storyline and romantic
subplots, the real star here is the English language. Stillman is
intoxicated with words and the film overflows with urbane conversations.
His characters talk about social manners. They talk about the politics of
dating. They talk about group dynamics, the origins of environmentalism
and Disney's role in reinforcing stereotypical male and female behavior.
They talk and talk and talk until you want to scream "For the love of God,
would you people just shut up and dance!?!"
With "Metropolitan" and "Barcelona," "The Last Days of Disco" completes a
trilogy of Stillman films containing many of the same characters. Set
against the world of disco in the early 80's, the production focuses on a
handful of horrible young adults. Alice (Chloe Sevigny) and Charlotte
(Kate Beckinsale) are co-workers at a publishing house. The pair spend
their evenings at a glittery disco packed with extras dressed in colorful
outfits. Doormen stand guard at the exclusive club, admitting only people
with the "right" look and social status. The disco is the center of Alice
and Charlotte's lives and they never venture to other nightclubs. Perhaps
that's because this is the only disco on Earth that plays its music
quietly enough to allow casual conversation.
Charlotte, the consummate bitch, spews an endless stream of offhand
nasty remarks to her "friend." With a reassuring touch to the forearm,
she tells Alice "In physical terms I'm cuter than you." In front of a
group, she mulls over why Alice isn't drinking that evening, sorts it out,
then cheerfully announces "Oh, I get it. It's because of that medication
you're taking. You've got gonorrhea!" Later, she apologizes for her
"compulsive honesty," while opining that getting VD can be a plus,
because notifying your past partners is a great excuse to renew relations
with old boyfriends.
Charlotte isn't the only gem in this tiara of humanity. There's junior
club manager Des (Christopher Eigeman), who dumps girlfriends by
"discovering" that he's gay (he explains that his moment of realization
came when he noticed his unusual attraction to Marlon Perkin's assistant
in "Wild Kingdom"), advertising executive Jimmy (MacKenzie Astin), who
ferrets clients into the club by wearing Wizard of Oz costumes, and Tom
(Robert Sean Leonard), an activist who theorizes that the modern
environmental movement began when thousands of baby boomers were
simultaneously traumatized by the death of Bambi's mother. And let's not
forget Josh (Matthew Keeslar), a manic-depressive assistant DA who, when
not furtively investigating the club's finances, waxes rhapsodic about
the disco "movement" ("something this big and important will never really
die," he says unconvincingly).
In-between conversations, they...wait, that's wrong, these people are
never in-between conversations. DURING conversations, they date each
other, break up and make up, and have periodic ugly confrontations with
the outside world. Despite the almost total lack of action, the film is
engaging and often funny. One of the highlights is a deep group
discussion about Josh's deconstructionist theory that Disney's "Lady and
the Tramp" was designed to "program women to adore jerks."
Unfortunately, the characters are so incredibly annoying that it becomes
difficult to appreciate the humor, as the urge to belt these pretentious,
self-absorbed idiots grows stronger and stronger. These are stagnant
people. They accomplish nothing, they do nothing except dissect life's
minutia while celebrating their own mediocrity. While their vapidity may
be the core of Stillman's satire of the social mores of the period, it
doesn't make it any easier to watch. Thank goodness for the "Love Train"
sequence that ends the film. I won't spoil things by describing it here,
but the scene is both funny and lyrical, breaking the inertia that weighs
down the rest of the film. How odd that a movie set in a disco suffers
from lack of movement.
In an ideal world, Whit Stillman would have got together with "Godzilla"
creators Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich and combined their character-
deficient movie with his. By blending both films into one, they could
have created a stunning fusion, an event film with brains. Think about it.
A giant lizard attacks Manhattan during the disco days. While the
military battles the creature, Whitman's characters wander the New York
streets prattling endlessly, oblivious to everything except the sound of
their own voices. Then, just before the final battle scene, Godzilla
takes a surprise step and squishes the entire cast of "The Last Days of
Disco." Now that would be a five star movie.
Copyright © 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott