Director : Whit Stillman
With : Chloë Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale, Robert Sean Leonard
“The Last Days of Disco” Whit Stillman has finally solidified his seat next to David Mamet as one of the best writers of cinema dialogue that we have today. Not unlike his early masterpieces “Metropolitan,” which focuses on a Debutante season in New York, and “Barcelona” which follows American expats living in Spain, “The Last Days of Disco” offers only the slightest trace of a plot: recent Hampshire and Harvard college grads spend their evenings in the early 80’s going to a disco loosely based on Studio 54. The film is actually the final installment in Stillman’s “Nightlife” trilogy, documenting the way three unique groups of people spend their respective evenings.
Supported by an incredible cast including Chloe Sevigny (Kids, Trees Lounge), Kate Beckinsale (Cold Comfort Farm), Chris Eigeman (Metropolitan, Kicking and Screaming) and Matt Keeslar (Run For The Country, The Deli), Stillman does a remarkably convincing job of tapping into the thoughts of these people, during this specific time in this distinct place. He is able to do so without the inevitable glitz and over-the-top retroism of most films set during this period (specifically the impending Miramax offering “Studio 54”).
Stillman, instead, relies on the words and thoughts of the characters rather the props, clothes and Travoltaesque dance moves-to lock in authenticity. The film’s protagonists are two young female Hampshire grads, who work as literary publishing peons, while still depending on their parents for an allowance in order to pay rent for a tiny railroad apartment on the Upper East Side. They spend much of their time competing, at work and for guys, while constantly falling in and out of love and friendship.
In typical Stillman form, the characters speak sentences of perfect grammar (no “like, ya know” Party of Five crap for these kids) and discuss subjects that they have obviously thought enough about to construct ponderable arguments. In the end, “The Last Days of Disco” is best judged as a good film– sophisticated junk food maybe, yet still intelligent and believable. A film like this is not necessarily intended to change the way we think about anything, but acts merely as a snapshot of a period of time using palatable characters and clever dialogue to make the ride even more enjoyable.