Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Last Days of Disco


Directed by Whit Stillman

The incredibly unproductive Whit Stillman's most recent film, released in 1999, reflects with nostalgia on the last days of the disco movement, one of of America's most unfortunate musical fads.

Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale play Alice and Charlotte, two young junior editors at a publishing house slogging away in corporate New York by day and hitting up the city's burgeoning disco scene by night. Their venue of choice is the exclusive Club, ruled by the shady Bernie and managed by their friend Des. The girls slip in and out of relationships with a number of characters, including a young ad exec, Jimmy, an environmental lawyer, Tom, and Josh, a self professed disco enthusiast who works as an assistant district attorney.
When "The Last Days of Disco" hit theatres, it received mostly mixed reviews from critics who accused Stillman of being too self referential and his characters of being unsympathetic and overly talky. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE???? Anyone who walks away from "The Last Days of Disco" with anything but a smile on their face is either heartless or just doesn't get it. Stillman has never been out to craft realistic characters facing everyday problems that viewers can empathize with. Rather, he makes films he obviously enjoys, which feature richly over the top dialogue delivered by preppie, vacuous characters. It may sound empty (and it sort of is) but Stillman is never less than totally on the mark which shows me that his characters are what he wants them to be, even if they rarely inspire much sympathy from the audience.
Stillman's influence on filmmakers such as Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach has been well documented but his skill in crafting films with witty, funny dialogue has been greatly overlooked, in my opinion. Indeed, the legion of crappy American comedies featuring soggy, annoying dialogue that attempts to ape the type of verbal sparring that Stillman has perfected are ample evidence of how uniquely gifted Stillman is at writing.
I'd hesitate to say that Stillman's films are very deep, but they are certainly deeper than most critics give him credit for. His films may be populated by barely believable, conceited, and superficial characters but he still gets across a number of poignant observations about the nature of romantic relationships and friendships as well as the humbling realities of the real world, even for coddled members of the upper middle class.