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SIFF: Funkytown - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
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SIFF: Funkytown
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Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: C
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B-



Funkytown is a bit bemusing. It ends with title cards giving further information on the characters, as though what we just saw was supposed to be a true story, although nothing up to that point, nor any of the film's marketing campaigns, indicates as much. Apparently the film's discotheque The Starlight is a fictionalized version of a Montreal club called the Lime Light, but here it serves as the backdrop to a story told in a strikingly similar style to P.T. Anderson's 1997 breakout film Boogie Nights.

There are several key differences, though, not least of which are the fact that this is a Canadian film and it's not about porn stars. Instead, it's about one of the first and hippest disco clubs in North America in 1970s Montreal, and the fame-whoring people who work and hang out there.

A bit too many of them, actually. While the editing is competent enough to allow for keeping the rather large number of characters straight, few of them feel particularly vital to the story. For this reason, clocking in at 133 minutes just means a certain amount of time wondering how long it'll be before the movie is over.

From a Canadian perspective, Funkytown has some fascinating qualities. In a way it serves as a period piece for that country, and particularly for Montreal, which, until 1976 -- the year in which the story begins -- was Canada's largest cultural and financial center. Early on, the club's owner says, "I'm going to put Montreal on the map!" -- only to watch Toronto surpass the city in cultural significance. And this happens between 1976 and 1982, a time that also covers a failed attempt by Quebec to secede.

Director Daniel Roby clearly intends for that political strife to be relevant to the story, but he pushes it far into the background in favor of a depiction of the physical and moral decline of all of these disco revelers. Bastien Lavallée (Patrick Huard) is a disco dance TV show host / radio DJ with acting aspirations, who shoehorns beautiful young model Adriana (Sarah Mutch) into his show in order to get her into bed. Meanwhile, barely closeted co-host Jonathan (Paul Doucet) seduces aspiring dancer Tino (Justin Chatwin), who barely understands his own sexuality and is committed by default to marry his girlfriend Tina (Romina D'Ugo).

This isn't even to mention the club owner, or the has-been disco star he blows off, or his son who manages the club, or the son's assistant who has the hots for him, or the woman who serves as Adriana's surprisingly sleazy agent, or Bastien's wife and daughter . . . I could keep going, but why bother? Surely I'm starting to lose you, just as the movie did me.

If Funkytown had come out in, say, 1996, it would have come across as fresh and maybe even inventive. Today, in spite of its often propulsive energy and generally solid performances, it feels like the same old disco story told all over again, just in a different country with a bit of politics used as a footnote. Much of it evokes movies like The Last Days of Disco or 54 -- and it certainly uses many of the same songs found on those movie soundtracks -- which does little more than conjure nostalgia for when disco nostalgia was cool. Hell, maybe it still is in Canada, I don't know. But the way this movie plays in the U.S., even the obligatory subplot of the gay characters finding tell-tale lesions signaling the approach of the AIDS epidemic feels very been-there, done-that.

Funkytown displays some competent cinematic storytelling, but it's fueled by a script that has nothing new or insightful to say about an era that's been overexposed in cycles of retro trendiness many times over.

(L-R) Justin Chatwin, Romina D'Ugo and Patrick Huard are just a small part of the bloated cast in 'Funkytown'.


Overall: B-
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