The Last Days of Disco

Don't look here for the drug and sex-crazed boogie nights of the disco era. Set in the early 1980s, this literate, lacerating social comedy focuses on the kind of yuppie Manhattan careerists the better clubs would block at the door. These educated snobs can barely hide their insecurities. Writer and director Whit Stillman, a Harvard man himself, has previously investigated this preppy class in Metropolitan (1990) and Barcelona (1994). Disco completes what Stillman calls his "Doomed Bourgeois in Love" trilogy.

Shy Alice (Chloë Sevigny) and assertive Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale) are just out of Hampshire College. Their low-entry jobs in book publishing provide the rent for a small apartment while they try to climb higher. Finessing themselves into a hot disco, the women connect with two Harvard grads -- Tom (Robert Sean Leonard), a lawyer, and Jimmy (Mackenzie Astin), an ad man whose job depends on getting fat-cat clients into the club. Jimmy is losing the battle. Despite his friendship with Des (Chris Eigeman), the club's underboss, Jimmy represents the boring element that Bernie (David Thornton), the club's huckster owner, wants to keep out. Bernie also suspects that Des' pal Josh (Matthew Keeslar), who works for the DA, is interested in more than disco.

That's a lot of plot, not to mention twenty-nine dance tunes, to cram into a character piece. No matter. Stillman's sharp-eyed direction sets the dynamic of group interaction against what Charlotte calls "ferocious pairing off." And his tone-perfect script allows cracks in the characters' cool exteriors -- Sevigny movingly portrays Alice's lost innocence. There is also comic bliss in a group discussion of Disney's Lady and the Tramp as a social allegory. The cast is first-rate, notably the tart-tongued Eigeman and Beckinsale. The last days of guilt-free glitz had consequences for more than two white chicks and their boyfriends, and Stillman shows how with delicious malice and unexpected compassion.

From The Archives Issue 789: June 25, 1998