54 (1998)

(In French, On TV, August 2015)  What is it about the Disco era that makes every single historical film about it feel so… dour?  Was it the way it imploded upon itself in a few months?  Was it that it gave way to the AIDS era?  I’m not sure, but there are a lot of disco-themed films, from Funkytown to Party Monster and Discopath, that ultimately show Disco as a false front for existential emptiness.  All of this throat-clearing is meant to say that 54 still stands strong as pretty much the same fall-from-grace narrative, wistfully recalling an era of excess before taking it all away from the lead character.  It feels very, extremely, completely familiar as a nominal protagonist played by Ryan Phillippe discovers Disco at the famed Studio 54, befriends plenty of interesting people, and then becomes completely disillusioned about it all.  Two or three things still save the film from terminal mediocrity: First is obviously the period recreation, especially early on when we discover the excesses of Studio 54 at the same time as our protagonist does.  Then there are a few performances worth talking about.  Neve Campbell was on the cusp of superstardom in 1998, and her role here plays off of that then-popularity.  Salma Hayek has an early-stardom role as a signer that makes an impression.  This being said, the film’s best and most affecting performance is Mike Myers’ decidedly dramatic turn as Studio 54’s owner, a sad role with a terrific scene set on a money-covered bed.  Myers has never done anything half as dramatically powerful since then, and it’s with the same kind of sadness that we can look at 54 more than fifteen years later, measuring it against the end of the Disco Era’s promises of non-stop fun.  The film itself may struggle to distinguish itself, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have one or two redeeming qualities.

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