The Last Days of Disco (1998) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Last Days of Disco (1998)

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ANDREW LIKEIs this what it’s going to be like?  It’s not often that I watch a film and realize that I’m getting older.  One generation passes on, the new one takes its place and eventually each has to set up what they think are the monuments of their lifestyles.  That’s what makes a film like The Last Days of Disco so damned appealing.  It’s caught at the crossroads between the death of late 70’s culture that symbolized personal freedom (now marketing it); and the rise of yuppies, cocaine, and Reaganomics in the 80’s.

The Last Days of Disco takes place at an undisclosed time in the early 1980’s and focuses on a group of well to do upper class business folks that like to go out and party at night.  Chief among them are Alice and Charlotte, played by Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale.  They both work at a publishing firm and every night head out to town to go to their equivalent of Studio 54.  In the meantime we’re introduced to a few others; Des (Chris Eigeman), an employee at the club and Joshua (Matt Keeslar), an employee at the advertising firm that are not welcome at the supposedly anti-establishment club.  Eventually their lives will intersect and form their own little clique, but not after observing their lives as they mostly get ready to go out clubbing and then go out clubbing.  Writer/director Whit Stillman is not really interested in establishing a standard plot between everyone.  In fact, the weakest part of the movie is what little bit of plot is forced on the arrangement (some shady dealings going on in the club), but they don’t intrude very much.

What he’s more interested in is the elements of transfer that take place between cultures as one generation leaves and the other one takes its place.  With this comes an element of cultural currency that is exchanged to show that you “belong” to a certain group of people.  How to best transfer that currency and show that you belong at all times is the primary concern of each of these characters in the beginning.  The club itself is run by people that claim that are leftovers from the counterculture boom of the 60’s and 70’s but have long sold out their elements of individuality for a stable economic life.  They’re advertising themselves as one of the last bastions against yuppie culture – the cocaine and Reagan fueled power climbers.

Charlotte is a pro at navigating these waters.  She’s been trading around to the point where she doesn’t have an authentic thing to say when pressed.  Alice is sort of an unwilling protégé, and trades in Charlotte’s knowledge as a way of getting out of her home and trying to establish herself as a strong, independent woman in this new world.  Their story is mostly played straight, but Des (played by a personal favorite – Chris Eigeman) adds a funny twist to this.  He plays on women’s emotions as a vulnerable, sensitive man then pretends to be gay whenever the arrangement has long lost its appeal.  Joshua plays on his friendship with Des as well, but is a mostly decent guy that just wants to have fun.

There’s not much conflict outside of Alice’s growing dislike of Charlotte and some romantic entanglements.  Joshua and Alice are destined to become attracted to one another’s honesty, but Des (despite his history) presents a fun picture to Alice.  The movie would be incredibly dull if it weren’t for Sillmans camera patiently dissecting the cultural exchange that takes place on the dance floor, in restaurants, and office space where the social duels take place.  His dialogue is fantastic as well.  There are moment’s of quiet observation that reveal the hypocrisy of both old and new, and fantastic monologues from overly analytical liberal arts lovers that want to find relevant to say about their passion.

The Last Days of Disco is not a sad movie, but one of gentle melancholy.  At the end the future of everyone is uncertain, but it would be nice if we could all face it dancing with strangers.

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The Last Days of Disco (1998)

Written and directed by Whit Stillman.
Starring Chloe Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale, Chris Eigeman and Matt Keeslar.

Posted by Andrew

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