Kind of a Canadian spin on Scorcese or Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Roby’s sprawling and ambitious "Funkytown" is one of those massive ensemble period films about bad behavior in a decade of excess. Spanning from 1976-1978, "Funkytown" revolves around the fictional Starlight club, a nightclub based on Montreal’s "Lime Light" club that was in constant competition with New York’s Studio 54. Surrounding this club are a wide array of characters whose stories are all affected by the club itself.
There’s Bastien Lavallee (Patrick Huard) a radio and television personality whose work keeps him away from his wife and daughter. Gilles Lefebrvre (Raymond Bouchard) is an older record producer who runs the Starlight with his son Daniel (Francois Letourneau). Tina (Romina D’Ugo) and Tino (Justin Chatwin) are two twenty-somethings who spend their nights dancing and eventually win a contest to appear on the "Disco Dance Party" television show. This does not please Tino’s mother as his newfound career takes away from his waitering duties at the family Italian restaurant. To make matters more complicated, he soon realizes that the secret "all-male" room at the Starlight might hold more interest for him than his doting girlfriend. This revelation is not lost on flamboyantly gay radio, television and fashion trendsetter Jonathan Aaronson (Paul Doucet) who takes Tino under his wing.
Rounding out the cast of characters are Mimi (Genevieve Brouillette) a former singer who finds herself desperate to regain her glory days, and Adriana (Sarah Mutch) a talentless model who wants to become a disco singer.
The film features both an English and French speaking cast and boasts nice costumes, make-up and hair, and set design. The music of the era is on display - sometimes using original recordings, sometimes using bad cover versions. What the film does well in the look of the film, it stumbles in accuracy. For example, the film opens in 1976 where Tino wins a dance contest by mimicking the moves of John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever." That film wasn’t released until 1977. Furthermore, some songs were used before they were hits, and the owners of the Starlight bemoan the fact that Studio 54 takes away their business, yet Studio 54 didn’t open until 1977.
If you can ignore those glaring inconsistencies, there is much to like at the outset of the film which sets up its characters nicely and wisely doesn’t use the looks of the time period to make fun of it. This is a film that tries to be faithful to its story and for a while it succeeds. But at two hours and 15 minutes, the film becomes a depressing and cynical mess of bad choices, bad luck, and unlikeable characters. In the end there are only two side-characters that you root for (Daniel and his secretary) and the rest, well, they either get what’s coming to them or they devolve into sadness.
There are a few plot points that are never resolved as the movie swiftly moves forward through three years worth of time, and unfortunately, some of those were the most compelling. Sadly, the gay storyline is only mildly interesting mostly for the fact that Chatwin is a bit of a blank slate and doesn’t really read "gay" at all.
"Funkytown" has potential - but it gets lost in its own expansiveness. It also needed a character we truly cared about instead of people we’re simply intrigued by. There are things to like here - but ultimately, it leaves you feeling depressed and a little bit icky.
This article is part of our "Cinema Diverse! Palm Springs 2014" series. Want to read more?
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