By Tony Schwab, Staff Writer
Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco, like Metropolitan before it, is an elegy. Where -Metropolitan dealt with the end of the old style of preppy life, Disco deals with the decline and fall of the most hated of all music genres. The fact that neither of these trends are noble, and that their downfall is no tragedy, is vital to the films effect. We are meant to feel sad for these trends end in spite of ourselves, because we see how much it affects the characters. The decline of prepiness and disco comes along at a time when the characters are beginning to have to grow up, and they cling to it because they don’t want to.
The characters are more in control of their lives than in most Stillman movies. Everyone has a job that will hopefully lead to an impressive sounding position in the future. In the many relationships that run the plot, the characters are generally looking for serious partners, with marriage looming in the distance.
That does not mean that they are mature. Just as in all Stillman movies, the characters are self obsessed and gleefully misanthropic. Kate Beckinsale’s Charlotte and Chris Eigeman’s Des are two of the great cynical self-justifiers in all of film. Beckinsale is at her best when chastising her friend Alice for her failures with men, which she chalks up to her being too grounded. Eigeman’s best moment comes when he is confronted by a woman who he dumped, telling her that he was gay to soften the blow. When she asks, holding back tears, if he has ever slept with a man, he responds “well thats defining it rather narrowly”, not acknowledging his wrongness, or even an understanding of why he might be considered wrong.
Stillman’s attitude, even when his characters are at their worst, is never quite judgemental. None of them are made to seem awful in the way that some are in Baumbach’s work. This is because of how completely insular of a world they live in. They only interact with people very much like themselves, so we never experience any action as an outrage. When a character is wronged, we know that they could have easily done the same. No character is permanently horrible, and nobody is ever deeply traumatized. Even when Charlotte’s engagement falls through she can only stay upset for a little while.
Stillman’s next film is a Jane Austen adaptation. This is only fitting, as his outlook is so much like hers. For some this attitude is fanciful, and for others it is constrictingly serious. But for their fans, it is perfectly both.