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DVD Review: LAST DAYS OF DISCO



Studio: The Criterion Collection
Year: 1998
Cast: Chloe Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale, Chris Eigeman, Matt Keeslar, Mackenzie Astin, Matthew Ross, Robert Sean Leonard, Jennifer Beals
Director: Whit Stillman
Release Date: August 25, 2009
Rating: R for some elements involving sexuality and drugs
Run Time: 01h:53m:00s
Genre(s): comedy, romance, indie, disco

"You know that Shakespearean admonition, 'To thine own self be true'? It's premised on the idea that "thine own self" is something pretty good, being true to which is commendable. But what if 'thine own self' is not so good? What if it's pretty bad? Would it be better, in that case, not to be true to thine own self?... See, that's my situation." - Des McGrath (Chris Eigeman)

LAST DAYS OF DISCO

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The Last Days of Disco might be Stillman's weakest film, but it still delivers an intriguing, compassionate look at young professionals. Few pictures (besides Stillman's own) depict these types of characters, who are written as flawed, three-dimensional individuals.

Movie Grade: A

DVD Grade: A-

Whit Stillman has disappeared from the film world and is probably not a familiar name to younger cinephiles. During the 1990s, however, he created three classic indie pictures that continue to charm audiences. His third (and still most recent) film was 1998's The Last Days of Disco, which provided a unique look at the often-derided era. Stillman depicts believable characters whose lives are much closer to reality. They actually have jobs and are concerned with more than your everyday Hollywood romance. The disco atmosphere provides a nice backdrop but never overwhelms the human side.

Occurring in the early '80s, the story focuses on Alice Kinnon (Chloe Sevigny)a recent college grad dealing with life issues while spending lots of time at The Club. This bright dance party is the setting for the pivotal interactions between a small group of main characters. A particular challenge is Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale), an attractive but difficult friend with zero filter in every situation. She lives and works with Alice but spends a majority of the time undermining her. Several love interests come and go, most notably the dashing Tom (Robert Sean Leonard). He appears perfect at first, but all is not as it seems. Another possibility is Josh (Matt Keeslar), who has great chemistry with Alice intellectually but might be a little mentally unbalanced. There's also nightclub manager Des (Chris Eigeman), who struggles with womanizing and drug use but has an engaging personality.

These descriptions appear to imply a fairly simple romance film, but that's far from the case. It's actually more of an ensemble piece that gives screen time to a group of characters. Dancing to enjoyable disco tunes and facing tough situations, they're still learning how to be adults in a changing world. In the background is a story about the investigation into corruption by the club's owners. Sending agents posing as advertising clients into the club, law enforcement is preparing for a raid. Combined with the rising anti-disco movement, this case shows that huge changes are on the way.

Stillman is a talented director, but his true genius is the sharp writing of classic verbal sequences. Appearing in all three of Stillman's films, Chris Eigeman usually gets to deliver the best statements with his trademark biting wit. Des has many great moments here, including his turnaround of Shakespeare's To thine own self be true and unique spin on being called a yuppie. Another classic scene is the dissection of Disney's Lady and The Tramp as a dreadful way to teach young girls about romance. The clever dialogue rarely seems forced into conversations to make everyone look hip. These are recent college graduates from top universities who face life with an intellectual bent. Dancing and mingling is fun, but nothing is better than a great argument.

This Criterion edition finally gives audiences a chance to own Last Days of Disco without spending crazy money for an out-of-print release. I'd been hanging onto my VHS copy for years with hopes that we'd eventually another DVD version. The major draw is the excellent commentary from Stillman, Eigeman and star Chloe Sevigny. The trio has great chemistry and completely avoids plot summary, which is a rare bonus. They give wonderful background on this picture and each person's career while discussing approaches to acting and directing. This track is a must for Stillman fans and anyone who loves films. Another nice inclusion is the essay Pop Paradise by author David Schickler, which appears in the Criterion booklet. It's fairly brief but gives compelling insights on this picture and Stillman's history.

This disc also contains four deleted scenes running for about eight minutes. They mostly take place in Des' apartment, which appears only briefly during the film. The commentary participants return for optional audio during these moments, which are interesting but don't add much. Stillman also reads a lengthy excerpt from the epilogue of the novel The Last Days of Disco, with Cocktails at Petrossian Afterwards. The book gives an intriguing take on the movie's events but doesn't translate well to this audio set-up. The behind-the-scenes featurette is one of those pointless extras originally designed for promotion. It mirrors the trailer but adds brief production footage and star interviews. Finally, be sure to check out the photo gallery, which offers informative captions from Stillman that go beyond the pictures.

The Last Days of Disco might be Stillman's weakest film, but it still delivers an intriguing, compassionate look at young professionals. The surprisingly catchy soundtrack is the perfect background for an original, often hilarious story. Few pictures (besides Stillman's own) depict these types of characters, who are written as flawed, three-dimensional individuals. I'm still holding out hope that Stillman will make a triumphant return and charm a new generation of viewers.

Posted by: Dan Heaton - September 4, 2009, 9:19 am - DVD Review
Keywords: whit stillman, disco, criterion, chloe sevigny, chris eigeman




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