It’s 2009 (that’s the year I wrote this) and Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco is finally on DVD. I popped it in my player the other night and, in 1998, saw it at the theatre.
Young professionals make up the dramatis personae and, although Stillman sympathizes with them, they are no more adults yet than the fun pop music—disco—-they frequently listen to is adult. Then disco dies during the early ’80s and the desire for personal change occasionally springs up. Maybe it’s time to fall in love, even start a family. (Thus Stillman justifies his comic optimism at the movie’s end.) Or maybe, just maybe, it’s time to spurn society’s deep secularism. Why, the singing of “Amazing Grace”, done by the irreligious Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale), could actually mean something.
John Simon criticized Stillman’s failure to explore his characters in the film Barcelona (1994), and the same failure exists in Disco. Alice Kinnon (Chloe Sevigny) comes close to being explored, but not quite. For this reason The Last Days of Disco is by no means a great film. But it is shrewd and witty and as dramatically imaginative as it is clumsy. Also, Stillman’s chief character is what Troy Patterson of Slate.com identifies as the movie’s subject: “society—small s and small scale,” and it IS explored. To me, the exploration is fascinating.