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IN SHORT: All talk. Little excitement.
For you history buffs out there, The Last Days of Disco is the third (and final) film in writer/director Whit Stillman's "Nightlife" series. Chronologically, it fits between Metropolitan and Barcelona, though you need not have seen either of those flicks to make sense of this one.
The Last Days of Disco sets itself in "The very early 1980s" which, based upon the plot points and the fact that this period was Cranky's coming of age, would be about 1981. It was a time when nik-nik shirts were replaced by men in suits, herpes was the venereal disease on everyone's mind and "gay cancer" had not even been linguistically conceived. That's as good a place as any to set a story of just-out-of-college kidlets working the first jobs and looking towards the bright future.
Central in the lives of these WASP proto-yuppie scum is an exclusive disco, not unlike Studio 54, where they dance badly, drink cocktails and talk endlessly about their dreary lives and drearier personalities and how independent they are ('cuz they won't ask dad to increase their allowances). The main point of conversation is the change from hanging out as a group to pairing off with thoughts of family, career and motherhood. That, and how writing Spider-Man is not an impressive career choice.
Excepting the latter point, that's just about how it was back then. The Last Days of Disco is not so much about the title, as about the final change in your life; when you truly become responsible for yourself. Which can lead to way too much philosophizing and analysis, which is the problem here.
The kidlets in this flick are all, basically, broke, and just out of the Ivy League immigrants to the Big Apple. Some of 'em have rich parents to fall back on, though they don't use them actively. There's a ton of stories to tell and Cranky thinks it goes like this:
Alice (ChloŽ Sevigny), who has a personality at a level just above wet sponge, likes club manager Des (Chris Eigeman), who thinks he may be gay -- to the utter humiliation and despair of all the women in the club that he's slept with (including very early 1980s star Jennifer Beals). Des helps out his advertising buddy Jimmy (Mackenzie Astin) by letting Jimmy's old fogey clients in. Jimmy also has a friend named Josh (Matt Keeslar), an ADA who has an eye for Alice. Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale) went to college, and now works at a book publishing house, with Alice. The pair share an uptown railroad flat with Holly (Tara Subkoff), who's got great looks and that's about it. Dan (Matt Ross) works at the publishing house, too, but he's into union organizing and went to Harvard and these ladies know that Harvard men are all talk ("Two dates and they make up an excuse to move on"). There's also a guy named Tom, who professes to be a fan of artist Carl Barks and has color original Scrooge McDuck comic art on his wall (an impossibility; a mistake which only a Barks collector like Cranky would catch)
This doesn't even begin to include the pastiches on real life owners and doormen at Studio 54. What a soap opera.
One of the very few things that robs the flick of authenticity is that the sound mix must allow you to hear the dialog. In the real discos, if you were on the floor you couldn't hear a damned thing. A minor point, true, but the necessity robs the piece of some of the excitement that disco supplied. Even at Studio, you had to go off the main floor and into a separate room to have any kind of conversation. In this flick, the lounging areas are right off the floor and the music is mixed way down so we can hear how VD can be a good facilitator of social interaction or how The Lady never should have fallen for The Tramp (ie. women are attracted to sleaze, not to nice guys. Something all us nice guys have known for years.)
When it sparks, The Last Days of Disco is brilliantly dialogued. The acting is fine and we get a good sense of the jobs and lives inside and outside of the disco. The problem, at least for me, is that most of the characters look and sound alike. By the end of the flick, one character decides to forego the "natural" look for the slick backed hair, and Cranky was totally lost. As well, no one on the dance floor in The Last Days of Disco works up a sweat. No one in that group gets excited over the prospect of white powder in a little spoon. Des is the only one who indulges, but Cranky can vouch for the times. We all did it, 'cuz it was plentiful and fun and no one realized that the stuff was killer addictive.
That being said, Cranky advises you not to touch the stuff. It's bad medicine and messed me up good, many moon ago.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for The Last Days of Disco, he would have paid . . .
Yeah, Cranky spent most of his career in rock and roll radio, but in the 70s disco was good for two things: dancing and sex. Other than that it sucked, of course, but bopping (whether horizontal or vertical) is still bopping. The Last Days of Disco doesn't convey the fun.
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