Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Now playing in theatres is an ambitious anthology of stories centering on the Starlight, a Montreal disco, North America's first in the seventies. Directed by Daniel Roby (his Peau Blanche is a wickedly clever vampire picture), Funkytown takes audiences from 1976 through 1980 against the backdrop of Quebec separatism, the rise of gay rights, the proliferation of hard street drugs, and the invasion of shag carpeting. There's also a constant stream of disco that acts like a pulse in the lives of nine Montrealers, such as the eponymous 1980 hit by Lipps Inc:

The strongest story belongs to Bastien, the haughty MC of a Quebecois disco show who falls for Adriana (top), an opportunistic bimbo, and loses his wife, daughter and soul.

Bastien spirals into a vortex of booze and drugs, a familiar tale which is rather heavy-handed (drugs are bad, kids). However, Patrick Huard (Bon Cop, Bad Cop) delivers a super performance that holds this sprawling film together.

Another highlight is Raymond Bouchard who perfectly plays Gilles, the veteran, sleazy record producer who bullies his son, the owner of the disco, and steals Adriana from Bastien. Less convincing is Tino, a superb dancer who hails from macho Little Italy but denies that he's gay, even as he's opening his back door to co-host Jonathan (an impressive Paul Doucet). Tino's story is compelling, but Justin Chatwin is miscast and never looks comfortable. The same can be said of Sarah Mutch who certainly looks like a hot model, but can't act.

Loosely based on real characters and a real disco, Funkytown crackles with energy throughout, though it struggles to tie all the storylines together towards the end. In this sense Funkytown recalls 1996's marvellous Boogie Night, another Altmanesque take on the disco age, but the former resonates to Canadians because of the issue of separatism humming in the background like a bassline in a Donna Summer tune. Vive le disco.

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