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'Disco' Fever: Yada, Yada, Yada

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 29, 1998

  Movie Critic

The Last Days of Disco
Kate Beckinsale (left) and Chloe Sevigny dance away in "The Last Days of Disco." (Castle Rock)

Whit Stillman
Chloe Sevigny;
Kate Beckinsale;
Christopher Eigeman;
Matthew Keeslar;
Robert Sean Leonard;
Tara Subkoff;
David Thornton;
Jennifer Beals
Running Time:
1 hour, 54 minutes
Contains a smidgen of profanity; discussion of sexual mechanics, body parts and venereal disease; a glimpse of nudity; one sex act; lots of disco music
In "The Last Days of Disco," a funny but frustrating new film by Whit Stillman ("Metropolitan," "Barcelona"), there is one very obvious clue that his central characters are not real people but evil, shape-shifting aliens masquerading as human beings.

"I love this place," says Josh (Matt Keeslar), a young assistant district attorney standing in a sweaty swirl
of hormone- and cocaine-ravaged humanity in the Studio 54-like nightclub that is the film's main setting. "Cocktails, dancing, conversation . . . the exchange of ideas."


Only within the arch, heightened reality of a Whit Stillman universe could somebody actually get away with saying something so patently ridiculous and still sound remotely believable. Only within the internally consistent illogic of that precious world can you listen to a coterie of affluent, white scions of privilege deconstructing the politico-sexual semiotics of Disney's "The Lady and the Tramp" over vodka-tonics, while some heinous and wonderful disco confection like "More, More, More (Pt. 1)" by the Andrea True Connection plays in the background.

Take it or leave it (and it's certainly not everyone's cup of tea), but it's what we've come to expect from the talky, almost too-smart-for-his-own-good Stillman.

With the detached curiosity of a coroner, "The Last Days of Disco" anatomizes Stillman's favorite indigenous people, the Manhattan yuppie, this time set in the "very early '80s" during the twilight of disco music and its attendant night life. Lawyers, ad men, publishing house flunkies, the denizens of this world are all white, smart, well-bred and articulate.

Alice (Chloe Sevigny) and Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale) are recent Hampshire College graduates in the Big Apple, sharing a railroad apartment while trying to find love in the discotheques of New York. It is an obsessive pursuit where looking good and arriving in a cab can make all the difference to the velvet-rope Nazi (Burr Steers) who controls access to paradise with a nod or shake of his head.

If it sounds like a shallow waste of time, it's not to this crowd. The serious young ladies and their various suitors and pals-club manager Des (Chris Eigeman), junior ad exec Jimmy (Mackenzie Astin), attorney Tom (Robert Sean Leonard) and publishing co-worker Dan (Matthew Ross)-can find the most mundane activity (such as ordering a drink) fraught with Larger Meaning.

In the real world, people like this are tiresome, but in the fictional vitrine of Stillman's museum, they are rather entertaining. Nothing much happens in the rarefied air of "Disco." Couples couple (and uncouple), jobs are lost (and found). About the worst calamity to occur is the contraction of a sexually transmitted disease, in a seduction that begins with the line, "There's something really sexy about Scrooge McDuck." It's not storytelling as much as it is wishful thinking for a time that seems idyllic now but may have never existed the way we-and Stillman-remember it.

When all is said and done, eavesdropping on the glib conversations of witty urbanites can be a pleasant diversion, but after so much volubility, you might find yourself wishing that they would all just shut up and dance.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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