Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Last Days of Disco

Written and directed by Whit Stillman, The Last Days of Disco is the story about two college graduates who work at a publishing house by day as they go to disco clubs in the early 1980s in its waning days trying to find love and fun. The film is about a period in time where things are changing as two women try to spend as much time in a nightclub soaking in these final days while facing the uncertainty of their future. Starring Chloe Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale, Chris Eigeman, Mackenzie Astin, Matt Keeslar, Matt Ross, Tara Subkoff, Jennifer Beals, and Robert Sean Leonard. The Last Days of Disco is an extraordinary comedy-drama from Whit Stillman.

The era of the disco craze was a place where many people get the chance to go to nightclubs, have a few drinks, and dance to some good music. While there were also dangerous elements of cocaine and promiscuous sex involved, it was a period in time that at least got people together to have fun. For two young post-graduates in Alice (Chloe Sevigny) and Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale), they go to a lavish nightclub as regulars just to have a good time as a way to escape the dreariness of everyday life where they work at a publishing house. While the two women aren’t exactly best friends, they do move in together with another woman while dealing with ideas of falling in love, dealing with the future, and the role of being a woman. Through the men they meet, they endure all sorts of challenges about what to expect in a man as the men themselves are also dealing with their own issues. Especially as the age of disco starts to go into a major decline forcing these two women to deal with the changes in their environment and in themselves.

Whit Stillman’s screenplay does play to themes that he’s known for as well as setting them transitional periods of time. While the film is set in the early 80s during disco’s decline, the script is structured to play out this period of decline where the first half is about the good times in the age of disco while its second half is about its inevitable fallout due to drugs, sexual promiscuity, and other big things. Particularly as it revolves on several characters in the film aside from Alice and Charlotte. Notably the men such as one of the club’s managers in Des (Chris Eigeman), an advertising executive in Jimmy (Mackenzie Astin), and an assistant D.A. in Josh (Matt Keeslar) as they are all part of the group that Alice and Charlotte are in. While there’s a few extra people that are part of this group, they all discuss about their roles in life as well as how to advance in life.

While Alice and Charlotte are these young women who have ambition and go to nightclubs, they are very different women as far as personalities are concerned. Charlotte is very outgoing in the way she deals with thing as well as being extremely opinionated as well as the fact that she’s kind of a bitch. Alice is a more soft-spoken individual who has idealism of what she wants in a man but her encounters end up being very troubling. While she finds something in guys like Des, Jimmy, and Josh as well as their flaws, it does have her raise questions about what she wants in a relationship while Charlotte believes she knows more yet she ends up going through the same questions as Alice about what she wants. Things do get more serious in the third act where the men in these women’s lives deal with not just themselves but also what they want just as the nightclub they all hang out is starting to close.

Stillman’s direction is very fascinating for not just the way the whole world of disco is presented but also the way he presents this rise of the world of the yuppies. There is a clash of these two very different cultures that each represents a different period in time yet Stillman is more interested in the people who are living in this transition of time. Stillman’s approach to framing is quite straightforward but still engaging in the way the characters are seen as well as how they conduct their lives. There is still humor that is present in these conversations as well as some of the action that occurs while it is mostly low-key and dramatic. Particularly as it plays to what these men are going through as Jimmy is trying to advance in the advertising world though he is considered to be a pariah at the club. The club manager Des is someone who is going through a sexual identity crisis while trying to help manage a club that is being targeted by the IRS and the NYPD.

The direction is also very playful while playing with the idea of anachronisms where Stillman uses footage of the infamous Disco Demolition Night in Chicago as well as raid in Studio 54. One aspect in playing with the anachronisms that does help with the film’s plot is the fact that there’s characters from Stillman’s previous films that appear who will help impact the fate of a few characters. Still, there is this build-up to the end where it involves lots of authority figures trying to close down this club that causes a lot of conflict for Josh. Even as it plays to some very dramatic moments about how he’s feeling for Alice as well as the fact that he’s kind of a friend for Des. The film’s ending is about the end of disco but is it really an end? There’s a great monologue that Stillman writes about disco’s demise that really plays true to not just about that period of time but also what it meant to people. Overall, Stillman creates a very rich and wonderfully smart comedy-drama about changing times and identity.

Cinematographer John Thomas does excellent work with the cinematography from the lighting presentation for many of the nightclub scenes to the more straightforward exterior look of New York City. Editors Andrew Hafitz and Jay Pires do fantastic work with the editing by utilizing rhythmic cuts to capture the tone of the conversations as well as some of the scenes in the clubs. Production designer Ginger Tougas does brilliant work with the look of the club many of the characters hang out at as well as the apartment that Alice and Charlotte live in. Costume designer Sarah Edwards does amazing work with the costumes from the more casual, yuppie-like clothes many of the characters wear in the day to the more stylish dresses the women wear at the club.

Sound editor Paul Soucek does wonderful work with the sound to capture atmosphere of the nightclubs as well as the more quieter moments in the work place and at the apartment. The film’s music by Mark Suozzo is terrific as it‘s mostly a low-key orchestral score to play out some of the dramatic scenes or scenes in the office. Music supervisor Peter Afterman does a superb job in compiling a soundtrack filled with some amazing disco classics from artists like Chic, Diana Ross, the O’Jays, Andrea True Connection, Alicia Bridges, Blondie, Sister Sledge, and many others as well as some reggae in the mix and late 60s soul music.

The casting by Billy Hopkins, Suzanne Smith, and Kerry Barden is incredible as it features some appearances from Jaid Barrymore as a club-goer known as Tiger Lady, George Plimpton and Anthony Haden-Guest as a couple of famous club-goers, Mark McKinney as a bar waiter, Michael Weatherly as a client of Jimmy’s who gets into the club, David Thornton as the club owner, Edoardo Ballerini as a club manager, and Burr Steers as the club doorman Van. Other notable small roles features some very funny appearances from Stillman’s previous films such as Carolyn Farina, Taylor Nichols, Bryan Leder, and Dylan Hundley replaying their roles from Metropolitan while Nichols also plays the character he played in Barcelona that includes Debbon Ayer as that protagonist’s future ex-girlfriend. Jennifer Beals is wonderful as a lover of Des who feels slighted by him while Robert Sean Leonard is excellent as a one-night stand Alice was with who later treats her like dirt.

Matt Ross is terrific as Alice and Charlotte’s co-worker Dan who hangs out with them while creating some fascinating observations about the disco world. Tara Subkoff is very good as Alice and Charlotte’s roommate Holly who is a very nice girl that Dan later dates though she is someone who admittedly makes questionable dating choices. Mackenzie Astin is superb as the advertising executive Jimmy who is trying to get into the club to help his career while making some discoveries about the club’s business. Matt Keeslar is great as the assistant D.A. Josh who goes to the club to discover the world of disco while some of his discoveries put him into conflict over what he should do as well as his feelings for Alice.

Chris Eigeman is marvelous as the club manager Des who tries to keep the club in order while dealing with his own sexual identity as he ponders about whether he’s really into women or not as it’s a very witty performance from the Stillman regular. Kate Beckinsale is remarkable as the very outspoken Charlotte as a woman who is very lively and opinionated while often saying the wrong things at times as it is a very delightfully charming performance from Beckinsale. Finally, there’s Chloe Sevigny in a brilliant performance as Alice as a young woman who is unsure about what she wants while dealing with some of the pratfalls about love as well with a discovery that could make or break her career.

The Last Days of Disco is an outstanding film from Whit Stillman that features top-notch performances from Chloe Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale, and Chris Eigeman. Along with a very fun music soundtrack, the film is definitely an intriguing piece into the world of identity and changing times as well as a look into the last days of the disco culture. The film is also very accessible in the way it deals with people discussing big themes in a setting where a lot is happening where these people are eager to escape from that craziness. In the end, The Last Days of Disco is a fabulous film from Whit Stillman.

Whit Stillman Films: Metropolitan - Barcelona - Damsels in Distress - Love & Friendship - The Auteurs #21: Whit Stillman

© thevoid99 2013


Dan Heaton said...

I hate to sound like a broken record, but I'm again glad to hear that you're a big fan of The Last Days of Disco. I've seen it a bunch of times and still enjoy it just as much (if not more). It's great that it was released by Criterion and should find a larger audience. The entire cast is excellent, and it's interesting to see Sevigny and Beckinsale before they became household names. Eigeman is so good; that guy needs more work.

thevoid99 said...

This is so far my second favorite Stillman film. I saw Damsels in Distress yesterday and I'm working on my Auteurs piece on Stillman which I will release next week. This film was so much fun and my mother loves the music in that film.

Unknown said...

I watched this movie because I was a huge fan of Sevingy from the movie Kids. Have not heard seen any other movie in Stillman's filmography, but I will be buying Metropolitan and this and Last Days very shortly. Great post

thevoid99 said...

@TheVern-I recommend seeing all of them as I will post my Auteurs piece on Stillman next Friday as it's nearly finished.