I am sorry to say this, but this movie is just not at all what it should have been. Written and directed by Whit Stillman (Barcelona, Metropolis) this tale is loosely based on the fall of Studio 54, the famously decadent nightclub that defined the Disco Mystique, if I can use such a phrase without being shot. It’s not 54, nor is it even all that disco, or all that mystical.
I was hugely disappointed in the period aspects of the film. OK, the early 1980’s were not even 20 years ago, yet the costumes look like vague approximations of a long-ago time period – like a poor high school doing The Crucible wearing ANYTHING made before the advent of the zipper. I don’t like to rag, but the togs were first of all unflattering (which could be interpreted as a Choice) and second of all practically modern. And I don’t even mean this pseudo-70’s comeback kind of modern polluting the malls these days – I mean like real clothes. The hair is all pretty modern too – not a feathering in sight, no big curls, no frizz, no crimp, no nothing remotely anything. Yes, Disco is not New Wave, but Kate Beckinsale (looking porcelain and more perfect than any 1998 Revlon ad) has a really Friends-friendly ‘do. The guys have pretty cute, regular haircuts. It’s shameful. Sarah Edward’s costumes are even cruel to some actors.
The club. A den of iniquity, a meat market drug addled party palace that’s just impossible to get into. OR The Hard Rock Cafe with some people wearing silver body paint and masquerade costumes. Everyone is conversing at living room volume despite the pumping rhythm of the O Jays. The peak of the sexual revolution is expressed by gay and straight people dancing at the same club! Horrors! It’s well lit, and about as scary as Disney’s Pleasure Island. Not fantastic and decadent but kind of lame, while still upbeat. For one brief, random shot, the club actually looked like a disco – even my moviegoing companion noticed that was the only spot.
A giganto ensemble cast of characters who don’t use each other’s name enough may be realistic but it’s hard to follow – and in true Hollywood style, no one has a defined character until they hook up with someone. Chloe Sevigny slumps her way through the women’s perspective (really obviously written by a man) with an annoyingly wafflish character who is only NOT annoying right when everyone says she is being so. Robert Sean Leonard and Jennifer Beals have small parts but do great. Too bad they couldn’t have replaced some of the other folk. Beals, to her credit, actually looks perfectly Disco. Some of my friends will recognize Matt Keeslar (who I lovingly refer to as Box Office Poison – he needs a new agent) in an oddly against-type role, and he really almost gets to do something with it. He’s involved with my two favorite speeches in the movie (re: Lady and the Tramp, and Disco) and he’s magically delicious. His character is a total tool, however, so be prepared. If you wanna see him naked, rent Run of the Country. Beckinsale is a bitch, totally see through and not as witty as the previews would lead you to believe. It’s all very muddled and strange and then it’s over, felled by a weird sting.
It’s kind of interesting, and poor Keeslar really is worth watching, as are a couple of the supporting players, trudging gamely through Stillman’s labored writing. The ideas are good, the actors are doing their best, but the energy just doesn’t translate. Everyone is depressed before the end of disco, dragged down by egos they don’t exhibit. But I was unsatisfied by the whole affair. Rent it – rent it for Matt.
MPAA Rating R -some sexuality and drugs.
Release date 5/29/98
Time in minutes 113
Director Whit Stillman
Studio Gramercy Pictures