Wednesday, August 26, 2009

This One Brings Us Up to Date

The Last Days of Disco (1998)
directed by Whit Stillman
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

In college, I thought of The Last Days of Disco as the lesser of Whit Stillman’s three films. The wide-eyed innocence of his protagonists in Metropolitan and even Barcelona became the party-list cynicism of Kate Beckinsale’s Charlotte and the advertising underhandedness of Mackenzie Astin's Jimmy. Chris Eigeman had graduated from an affectionate wit to trolling for lines of coke in a bathroom stall, and any movie with Chloë Sevigny approached “self-regarding” like a rocket.

But my memory is a pulpit of lies, and Stillman’s decency towards a cast of characters as unsure of their place in the world as ever endures with its open-heartedness intact. As 20s pass into 30s, Stillman’s gentle inquiries into adulthood come, even more than in Barcelona, with a clearer appreciation of the role of sex. Something the cast of Metropolitan could talk about in the comfort of group society get-togethers is much more immediate to characters like Alice, who does her best to play along and suffers disproportionately to the spirit of her engagement.

She finds happiness, of course, because Stillman wants her to, but he is equally judicious with even her most insincere friends, wishing them each the best because, Stillman might argue, that’s the very least you can do for someone in this world. The director’s love of disco isn’t the bourgeoisie back rub it would seem, because Stillman’s movies really aren’t about yuppies at all. They’re really not, and if I could summarize The Last Days of Disco in a single take, it would be one of several tracking shots through that beautiful movie theater set of a nightclub, catching the faces of men and women from a laundry list of New York economic classes; occupations; sexual preferences; and practitioners of style; dancing when they’re not talking, talking when they’re not dancing, trying to temper and make sense of the city and life outside.