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Metro Pulse Disco Dud

Emperor Stillman finally proves that he has no clothes.

By Adrienne Martini

JUNE 29, 1998:  It's the night of a thousand dances. See Alice learn how to debase herself while "The Tide is High" pulses in the background. Watch Charlotte connive and condescend to the tunes of Evelyn "Champagne" King. Observe Des groveling to save his job while the dancers boogie their buns off to "Le Freak." And watch as audience members all around you drop off to sleep and drool all over the seat cushions to the upbeat "Knock On Wood." Thank God these are the last days, not for disco but for Whit Stillman's stilted attempts at documenting the lives of the young and over-privileged.

Stillman's yuppie-angst trilogy began with 1990's Metropolitan, a talky flick set in a tony Manhattan penthouse, continued with 1994's Barcelona, another talky flick set in, well, Barcelona, and is finally completed with The Last Days Of Disco, set in a posh NYC disco. In addition to character continuity, the major unifying theme between all three is each character's deep, undying love for the sound of his or her own voice.

Admittedly, film scholars and assorted critics love Stillman and praise his ability to use language in unique and clever ways. "Oh!" they rhapsodize, "He writes the witty bon mots that we all wish we would have said, had we half the skill that this genius has." Horseshit. What Stillman has done is write words that fly over the head of your average critic, leaving him dazed and unable to see their meaninglessness, while constructing his sentences in such a way as to mimic the intellectualized speech of your average film scholar, making him believe that these screen personas are actually just like him. You have to admit that this approach is fiendishly clever for its ability to pull a good deal of wool over the eyes of the many who control written discussions about the film, leaving the few wandering about, scratching their heads, and wondering why they were bored to tears during this quote-unquote brilliant piece of work.

But Stillman's stilted, overly convoluted language is not the only dull component of his latest foray into film; the plot is no great shakes, either. Alice, charmingly played by Chlo' Sevigny (Kids, Trees Lounge), is an innocent set loose in the very early '80s. Alice's naiveté is balanced by the witchy Charlotte, a conniving, back-stabbing woman-you-love-to-hate kind of part that Kate Beckinsale (Cold Comfort Farm, Shooting Fish) works magic with. Alice and Charlotte both ran in the same circle at Hampshire College but did not really meet until they found themselves working as serfs in the same publishing house. These two mismatched souls decide (well, in all honestly, Charlotte decides) to room together in a railroad flat. A third graduate, the dim yet kind Holly (Tara Subkoff), is convinced to join them in this apartment that offers little, if any, privacy.

And privacy is really what these women need as they become intimately involved with men they meet in the local disco, where another ex-college acquaintance, Des, works the door. The wooden and dull Chris Eigeman plays this glorified doorman, and this performance, like most of his other work, never, ever hits more than one long, monotonous note. The club, go figure, is laundering money as well as providing a haven for these disco dilettantes, and the results are predictable to anyone who is the slightest bit familiar with the fall of the real Studio 54. This nameless club is also the hangout for most of the guys these women went to school with, all of whom wander through the heart of either Charlotte or Alice, usually with devastating results. There is also a host of other sub-plots, some actually interesting—like Alice's attempt to find a potential bestseller in her slushpile—but most are decidedly banal, like Des' inability to commit to just one woman.

One would think that with all of the characters, the pulse-pounding disco tunes, and the barrage of sub-plots, this would be an engaging movie, constantly leaving one on the edge of one's seat, breathlessly waiting to find out what will happen next to these hapless youngsters. Instead, one is left squirming on the edge of one's seat, trying to find the one position from which one can't drift off to sleep, lulled by the highbrow speech that issues from the mouths of characters who are too emotionally frozen to create the slightest glimmer of interest in an audience. Things happen to Alice and Charlotte and neither reacts. Every bad plot twist and every good plot twist is greeted with the same indifferent attitude. Whoo-hoo. If the characters don't respond, why should someone be watching them?

Despite all of this rampant lethargy, there are some decent performances in Disco. Sevigny is able to convey the sparse sub-text of any given scene with her expressive eyes. Robert Sean Leonard, who makes an all-too-brief appearance as another potential beau, gives an understated yet clear performance that is matched by the talents of Matt Keeslar, as yet another beau, and Mackenzie Astin, as yet another...you get the idea. And, admittedly, the soundtrack makes you want to shake off the sleepies and boogie. Still, the best thing about Disco is that it marks Stillman's last journey into the personal dances of the young and upwardly mobile.


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