An infrequently updated dumping ground for one culture junkie's thoughts on film and whatever else

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Unfortunate Progression of Whit Stillman's Brief Filmography

For me, the career of Whit Stillman forms a perfect downhill slope: it moves from the sublime (Metropolitan), to the mildly charming (Barcelona) to the unwatchably grating (Last Days of Disco). If he ever makes a fourth film, and if the pattern holds, it will be a suckfest of epic proportions. I think Stillman's one of those guys who really only had one great work in him (the sublime Metropolitan, in this case) and so there was nowhere to go but down. Maybe Stillman himself realized this and chose to spare us any further decline. I don't know, maybe there are people who love Last Days of Disco (it's currently streaming free on Hulu, which is what brings about this rumination), but to me it substantiates all the anti-Stillman arguments that weren't true of Metropolitan because it was so funny and sweet and sociologically fascinating—the whole "why should we care about these obnoxious, absurdly overprivileged, joyless snobs who speak in artificial screenwriter tongues?" line of thinking. Metropolitan is cannily predicated on the audience asking itself these very questions. In that film we ask those questions as a sort of defense mechanism because we are so immediately interested in these characters and we feel slightly ashamed about it—and then Stillman spends the balance of the film answering those questions, and we're like, "Ohhh, I get it." But in Disco, there is no "Ohhh, I get it" moment. The movie is a plotless black hole of stilted dialogue and sloppy characterization. It's a character-based drama without a single character to care about. It's a lifeless retread of Stillman's (and Noah Baumbach's) earlier, better comedies-of-manners. It's a period comedy without any period detail—or any laughs.

The only ill effect of Stillman's de facto retirement from filmmaking (and Baumbach's ascension to bigger and better things) is that the great Chris Eigeman seems to have a hard time getting work these days. Although apparently he did an episode of FRINGE. Nice.

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