The Last Days of Disco, with Cocktails at Petrossian Afterward

Whit Stillman, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $24 (256p) ISBN 978-0-374-18339-4
Stillman, independent filmmaker (Metropolitan; Barcelona; The Last Days of Disco) and chronicler of the romantic trials of the upper-middle class, here adapts his own 1998 film, with poignant and hilarious results. The premise is preciously, playfully postmodern: chronically unemployed lounge-chair philosopher Jimmy Steinway is ""commissioned"" by Castle Rock Entertainment to do a novelization of the film, itself based on the activities of Steinway and his circle in the early 1980s. Steinway relates the events of the film from his own perspective, clueing readers in to the way things ""really"" happened. We are introduced to ""the Club,"" an ultra-fashionable discotheque, and the characters who inhabit it, including Josh Neff, a clinically depressed, disco-mad assistant district attorney; Dan Powers, a publishing industry wonk whose fervent nightclubbing clashes with his avowed allegiance to the downtrodden; Charlotte Pingree, whose manipulative one-two punch of acidic ""honesty"" and Clintonian contrition places her at the center of the Club's social whirlwind; and Alice Kinnon, whose quiet intelligence and barely concealed vulnerability make her the focus of romantic attention. Tensions stir within the group when Alice appears to take up with noted womanizer Des McGrath. The growing general animosity is rendered beautifully; the feinting two-step of sexual competition is vividly represented in the halting, emotion-freighted rhythms of the dialogue. Stillman's characters are often praised for their wit and verbal agility, but to take their pronouncements at face value is to deny Stillman's undeniable mastery as a satirist. The most rewarding aspect of the novel is the psychological interplay between the smarmy, self-involved young Jimmy Steinway and the older, wiser, middle-aged Jimmy Steinway who narrates. In adapting The Last Days of Disco, Stillman can lampoon his characters' foibles from a perspective one step beyond, thus articulating a moral perspective while furthering his satire. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
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