THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO
Review by Gordon Justesen
Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale, Chris Eigeman, Matt Keeslar, Mackenzie Astin, Matthew
Ross, Tara Subkoff, Burr Steers, David Thornton, Jaid Barrymore, Michael
Weatherly, Robert Sean Leonard, Jennifer Beals
Director: Whit Stillman
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Features: See Review
Length: 113 Minutes
Release Date: August 25, 2009
“There's something deeply ingrained in human biology: women prefer bad over weak, indecisive and unemployed.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“You think they do prefer weak, indecisive, and unemployed?”
I came into The Last Days of Disco having not seen the two previous films in writer/director Whit Stillman’s social comedy trilogy. The two other films were 1990’s Metropolitan and 1994’s Barcelona. Had I seen those, I probably would have enjoyed the film much more, since I’ve been told several characters from those films enter this one at a certain point.
But as it stands, I was able to enjoy the film for its glorious soundtrack, its observant depiction of social life in the early 1980s and shining performances from then rising stars Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny. As the title would indicate, disco music itself is very much a pivotal character in this film, as much as it was in Saturday Night Fever. The first half hour of the movie is basically the equivalent of a night club coming to life in your living room.
Set in early 80s Manhattan, the story follows recent college grads, roommates and best friends Charlotte (Sevigny) and Alice (Beckinsale). They both work at a publishing house in the city, and happen to get by on their wages in addition to continuing financial support from their parents. The work during the day, and hit the disco clubs on a nightly basis.
The story also focuses on the men in and around their lives. There’s Des (Chris Eigeman), the assistant manager of the club, whose best friend, Jimmy (Mackenzie Astin), is an ad exec who is regularly treating clients to club outings. There’s also Josh (Matt Keeslar), a college acquaintance of Des’ who’s also an assistant D.A., and Tom (Robert Sean Leonard), who is a lawyer working on behalf of the environment.
Basically, that’s all there is to the story. Stillman is very much working in the vein of Woody Allen in that his stories are mostly about the trials and tribulations of the characters at the center of the story. And The Last Days of Disco is very much about the intermingling of these assorted characters, both within and outside the nightclubs.
This is quite easily the best transfer I’ve seen from Criterion in quite some time. They work wonders with films from all different time periods, but for a late 90s film such as this the results are as good as it can possibly get. Image detail is amazing and evident right from the very start of the film. The New York nightclub scene looks more authentic than ever! Color and image crispness are also at a tremendous level. For this release, Criterion has outdone themselves.
Given the title, it’s clear that disco music is used abundantly in the film, and the 5.1 mix is sure to make grand use of each and every song on the soundtrack. The first half hour of the film is jam packed with music in the background, and the surround channels come to life with every beat as a result. Dialogue delivery is terrifically clear as expected. Even though this is a dialogue heavy film, it’s actually a fitting disc to demonstrate how your sound system can turn your living room into your very own dance club.
Criterion once again applies their touch of brilliance for this release. Among the supplements, we get a commentary with writer/director Whit Stillman and actors Chloe Sevigny and Chris Eigeman, Four deleted scenes with commentary by Stillman, Eigeman, and Sevigny, an audio recording of Stillman reading a chapter from his book “The Last Days of Disco, with Cocktails at Petrossian Afterwards”, a Behind-the-Scenes featurette, a still gallery with captions by Stillman, the Original Theatrical Trailer and a terrific booklet insert featuring an essay by novelist David Stickler.
Though I went into The Last Days of Disco blind in that I had never ventured into the world of Whit Stillman, I found so much to appreciate nonetheless. For me, disco and the movies go hand and hand beautifully and any film that concludes with a rousing use of “Love Train” by The O Jays is more than good in my book.