Funkytown (2011)

(On DVD, July 2011) I should begin by saying that I’m less impartial toward this film than most, having put together a web site for director Daniel Roby’s first feature film a few years ago.  But even then, it’s hard not to be impressed by the scope of Funkytown, which looks at the late-seventies disco scene in Montréal through a large ensemble cast.  The first few minutes are electrifying, as the characters are introduced within a fluid sequence.  Patrick Huard headlines the film as an influential media personality whose decline forms the backbone of the film’s dramatic arc.  Period music is used effectively, and the period is rendered in its glorious brown-and-gold glory.  Not stopping at disco, Funkytown also dares to tackle the socio-political turmoil of the era (which would see the center of Canadian power shift from Montréal to Toronto as separatism led to an exodus of well-off decision-makers from one city to the other) and the rise of AIDS within the gay community.  Loosely inspired by real events (look up the story of Alain Montpetit and Douglas Leopold for reference), Funkytown has enough plot to stuff an entire TV show season as seven or eight main characters jostle for attention.  Screenwriter Steve Galluccio is able to keep everything intelligible, but the story cries out for a novel or a longer-form format, especially toward the end as subplots seem to be cut short.  There’s still a decent amount of subtlety and depth to the end result, and the film’s soundtrack alone is worth a look.  (Never mind the slight anachronisms, though.)  The way both English and French dialogues are used, often in the same conversation, feels authentically Montréal-style.  As one of the bigger-budgeted films in Quebec history, Funkytown has a decent dramatic heft and feels like a reasonably faithful look at the era.  It’s a joy to watch even despite its downbeat dramatic trajectory, and will probably rank as a definitive piece for the era.

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