In 1970s Montreal, the hottest disco club in town was the Starlight. Frequented by big name celebrities and other “in” people, the club served as a stepping stone to a popular dance competition TV show called Disco Dance Party. The show’s host, Bastien (Patrick Huard), and celebrity gossip correspondent Johnathan (Paul Doucet) frequent the club to recruit new contestants for the show, as well as engage in other more illicit activities. While there one night, they meet Tino (Justin Chatwin; Showtime’s Shameless), a talented disco dancer accompanied by his girlfriend, Tina (Romina D’Ugo), and the couple are given their shot to dance on TV.
Now, it’s difficult to summarize Funkytown, because even the above paragraph, which sounds like it could be an entire film, is actually a very small part of the story. It reminded me of a Paul Thomas Anderson movie in many ways. It was reminiscent of Magnolia in how all the characters’ storylines were loosely related to each other, but mostly separate. And the period elements were done exceptionally well, much like Anderson’s Boogie Nights. I started to really enjoy the feeling of isolation working thematically within the film. As the characters become separated from the ones they love, their storylines gradually stop intersecting. It’s really interesting and done well.
The cast is really strong here. I’ve only seen Justin Chatwin in his Showtime series Shameless, and he’s great there, but seeing him play a completely different character here has really started to show me his versatility as an actor and I look forward to seeing other films starring the young actor. Here, Chatwin plays an aspiring dancer who is stuck taking care of his parents’ restaurant. His girlfriend won’t have sex with him until they’re married, and he doesn’t want to cheat on her, so he sleeps with other men, convincing himself he’s not gay, but just needs to fool around and apparently gay sex doesn’t count as sex. It’s a really interesting arc, and executed in a way that’s both subtle and dynamic.
Probably my favorite performance of the film is Patrick Huard’s portrayal of the TV host Bastien. It’s a real testament to how a man with everything can let his own pride destroy his life. His downfall begins with his affair with the beautiful Adriana (Sarah Mutch). A supermodel and fashion correspondent for Disco Dance Party, Adriana at first feels like the obligatory archetype for the film, but even her story arc becomes very complicated and fascinating to watch. The audience seems to view Adriana as she views herself. At first, only a sex symbol; worthless. But as the film progresses, she becomes strong and develops a self-confidence that earns her a lot of respect in the eyes of the audience, and makes her that much better as a character.
Another interesting thing about the film is how it seamlessly blends French and English throughout. Maybe a lot of Canadian films are like this, and I just haven’t seen them, but I was in awe of watching characters jump back and forth between the two languages at seemingly random times. Going from understanding what the characters are saying to having to read subtitles does take some getting used to, but after a while the foreign language begins to wash over you and it feels natural to switch back and forth.
I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. It’s difficult to summarize so trailers and promos don’t do it any justice, but I really can’t recommend it enough. My one big criticism is that it is very long. I threw it in at the end of a long day to watch and review, and had no idea it was over 2 hours long. But, even with the last 15 minutes dragging on in my exhaustion, I did thoroughly enjoy the film, and look forward to revisiting it soon, when I’m in the right mindset.
No Special Features on the DVD. Just the trailer and the trailers for some other movies coming out soon.
Available on DVD from Wolfe Video on October 2