The Last Days of Disco
Directed by Whit Stillman
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 113 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: August 25, 2009
Review Date: August 12, 2009
Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco magnificently captures the look, sound, and feel of the disco club scene in the waning months of its early 1980s life when dressing up either smartly or outrageously in the hopes of being allowed into an exclusive Manhattan dance club was a nightly ritual for hundreds of young and not-so-young people. That he’s peopled this fascinatingly captured period movie with a group of characters who are alternately dislikeable, pathetic, shallow, or phony spoils much of what there is to like about the film. It still has a fair share of humor, but an audience will have a hard time identifying with any of the relationships among most of these judgmental, inconsiderate jerks.
Close friends Alice (Chloe Sevigny) and Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale) are recent graduates of Hampshire College and have landed jobs as assistant book editors. The disco craze is still in full swing, and the girls eagerly dress up each night hoping for admittance past the velvet ropes into a chic dance club (modeled on Studio 54 but not named as such). Once there, they begin latching on to various Ivy League types who have managed themselves to invade the club. Alice is instantly drawn to Tom (Robert Sean Leonard) while Charlotte hooks up with Josh (Matt Keeslar), but relationships are fleeting and the cast of characters change in the girls’ lives as some friends become lovers and some lovers become, well, losers.
Whit Stillman has both written and directed the film, and while the writing is hip and often funny in an overly intellectualized way, putting the words into the mouths of these characters instantly takes the audience right out of the film knowing, as we do, that these are writer-y speeches, not realistic conversations between friends or acquaintances. He’s also been too quick to make so many of his main characters arch and unlikable: one gives his date gonorrhea and herpes on the first date, another breaks up with all the women he’s sleeping with and cheating on by telling them he’s realized he’s actually gay. The emphasis on sharp putdowns of friends is very off-putting, especially in Kate Beckinsale’s Charlotte who, in the real world, wouldn’t have a friend to call her own after being subjected to her verbally diarrheic tongue-lashings about their faults. The writer-director may find it chic to insert demeaning quips about Harvard types, ad guys, yuppies, the Woodstock generation, tall people, but, really, just who does this crowd feel is worthy of their time and friendship? (Case in point: an extended bit denigrating Disney’s Lady and the Tramp is quite witty even in its haughty outrageousness.) All of the scenes in the disco are a tonic with the spirited soundtrack offering up an exciting medley of early 80s era disco hits and with the background players constituting a more outrageous and likely more interesting cross-section of character types who might have made a more entertaining focus group than the uptight, smug snobs the film is attending. The drug scene rampant in the disco clubs of the era is only barely touched on during the movie (all of the main characters prefer booze to drugs), so that aspect of the era seems a bit lacking here.
Kate Beckinsale’s American accent is spot-on, but her character is such a mean-natured, shallow bitch that being around her for an extended period is a turn-off despite her expert characterization. Against such a titanic force, poor Chloe Sevigny seems ill-matched and ineffectual as her friend Alice who inevitably becomes the focus of pursuit for several of the men in the cast. Chris Eigeman is the jerk who “turns gay” when he wants to break up with a woman, a down-to-earth portrayal of a genuine creep. Mackenzie Astin as the ad man desperately trying to stay on the good side of the club owners so he can bring clients there does a very smooth, very apt job. Matt Keeslar as an up-and-coming lawyer manages to retain what audience sympathy is available for the major cast members. In smaller roles, Michael Weatherly, Matthew Ross, and David Thornton neatly etch their characters into one’s memories.
The film has been framed at 1.78:1 and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. This is a very impressive transfer with color and sharpness exemplary and flesh tones as realistic as can be. There is a tiny bit of pixilation that was hardly noticeable, but there were no other glaring compression artifacts. Black levels are excellent. The film has been divided into 27 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio track is impressive with the parade of disco hits pumping through the entire soundstage and a steady throb of bass emanating from the subwoofer. Dialogue is well recorded and is usually distinct though occasionally gets a bit overwhelmed by the incessant music.
An audio commentary features writer director Whit Stillman and co-stars Chloe Sevigny and Chris Eigeman. Stillman does most of the talking though the others chime in with comments or to ask Stillman questions about the production. It’s a nice adjunct to the film itself.
There are four deleted scenes which can be viewed separately or together in one 8 ¼-minute grouping. The viewer can also turn on a commentary track for each scene featuring the same three participants as in the film’s audio commentary. These are in nonanamorphic letterbox.
Writer-director Whit Stillman reads the epilogue from his book The Last Days of Disco, with Cocktails at Petrossian Afterwards which deals with the character of Jimmy (Mackenzie Astin) after the film’s action concludes. This runs for 17 ¼ minutes.
An EPK featurette of The Last Days of Disco featuring the director and stars talking about the movie runs 5 ¾ minutes and is in 4:3.
A stills section with captions for each photograph written by writer-director Whit Stillman can be stepped through.
The original theatrical trailer in nonanamorphic letterbox runs for 2 ¼ minutes.
3/5 (not an average)
The Last Days of Disco may not feature the greatest cast of characters, but the era is portrayed so richly and so well that the film is worth investigating and does indeed generate some good laughs.
Edited by MattH. - 8/14/2009 at 02:30 pm GMT