Monday, March 30, 2009

Of Disco and "Lady and the Tramp"

I just updated the sidebar with thoughts on Duplicity, I Love You, Man, and Sunshine Cleaning. I liked them all, to varying degrees, but not one of them made me nearly as happy as I was rewatching The Last Days of Disco, as I did today.

Vulture pointed me in the direction of Hulu, which just added Whit Stillman's near-masterpiece of delightfully verbose yuppies as they managed to ignore everything about the disco era that extended beyond the tips of their noses. God, I love this movie.Nearly every line of dialogue is so perfectly precious I'd like to wrap it up in a bow and give it to myself as a Christmas present, year after year. These sound like backhanded compliments, but honestly, Stillman knows exactly the kinds of stereotypes he's working in, and by playing up to them, he's able to craft some great verbal comedy. Some of the elements have since become cliche, in part because of this movie -- the post-modern dissection of Lady and the Tramp being the most glaring example -- but it's fun to remember when those elements were fresh.

This is also the movie that had me turned around on Kate Beckinsale for years. This was the first thing I'd seen her in, and her sharp, caustic performance made such a strong impression that, for years, I maintained that Kate Beckinsale was a great actress just struggling with poor material. I think it took me until Van Helsing to realize I began with the Beckinsale exception rather than the rule. Van Helsing! [Other performances subject to the Beckinsale Effect: Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight and Heather Graham in Boogie Nights; I still haven't made up my mind on Geena Davis, but hers would be Thelma & Louise.]

Anyway, come for the dialogue and the holy grail of Kate Beckinsale performances, stay for Chloe Sevigny trying out a proto-Nicki Grant character (and alongside her TV-brother-to-be Matt Ross), Matt Keeslar's adorable pro-disco testimonial, Chris Eigeman doing that Chris Eigeman thing, the compendium of classic disco music, and the once-in-a-lifetime sight of Mackenzie Astin and Robert Sean Leonard in the same place at the same time. It's like spotting a wan, milquetoast unicorn!

It's interesting -- I liked this movie the first time I saw it, but I totally fell in love with it this time around. Has that ever happened to you, so many years apart?


adam k. said...

WTF are you talking about?

Geena Davis is AWESOME.

Rebecca said...

Cold Comfort Farm features the only other good Kate Beckinsale performance, btw.

My favorite Whit Stillman has to be Metropolitan, but now I want to watch this one again.

Joe Reid said...

For some reason, I've been going along thinking "Metropolitan" was "Kicking and Screaming." I've seen the latter, not the former. The Chris Eigeman oeuvre is so overlappy! Anyway, onto the Netflix queue it goes!

And I stand by my Geena Davis ambivalence. Beyond Thelma (which: no argument) and Beetlejuice and A League of Their Own (both of which are good movies but not really good Geena Davis movies), there really isn't a lot to hang your hat on. I'll defend The Long Kiss Goodnight until my last breath, but I can never tell whether she's 100% in on the joke.

Anonymous said...

Geena Davis issue:
I think she's great too.
Joe, you forget about "Hero" and "Angie".