Director Whit Stillman's "The Last Days of Disco" is his third film about witty, well-bred but self-absorbed young urbanites. Stillman ("Barcelona," "Metropolitan") has created an engaging film that crackles with life while never taking itself too seriously. The story follows a loose-knit group of nouveau-yuppie friends during the waning days of disco as they eke out their entry-level existences by day and battle the velvet rope of an exclusionary, Studio 54-ish club by night.
Along the way the spoiled twentysomethings are confronted by the consequences of their self-indulgent generation. The film's dialogue sparkles with wit, irony and insight that upon reflection seem highly unlikely from a group of disco denizens. But it's a conceit worth buying into (especially in one diatribe about the reactionary subtext behind Disney's "Lady and the Tramp").
The cast list reads like a "Who's Who" of young Hollywood: Robert Sean Leonard, Mackenzie Astin, Matt Keeslar. All turn in fine performances, but the movie belongs to its two female leads, Kate Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny. British actress Beckinsale ("Cold Comfort Farm") maintains a perfect Ivy League accent as the snooty, acerbic Charlotte. Her arrogance is absurdly unfettered, and Stillman allows us the perverse pleasure of watching her egocentric world crumble beneath her. Sevigny ("Kids") gives a brilliant performance as Alice, Charlotte's best friend. Her attempts to wade through the mire of post-sexual revolution mating rituals are as hilarious as they are pathetic.
One could question the film's historical accuracy -- the film often plays out as if Stillman had read a book on Studio 54 -- but this failing is forgivable as he chooses to focus on the characters rather than on the already overexposed late '70s/early '80s era. Matt Keeslar's earnest speech about the cyclical nature of pop culture and how disco is "too great and too much fun to be gone forever" more than makes up for any perceived shortcomings. In the context of this sharp, funny film, Keeslar's statement is a given.