Film Review: Saturday Night Fièvre

Funkytown-584.jpgJustin Chatwin (Tino), Paul Doucet (Jonathan Aaronson) and Romina D'Ugo (Tina) in Funkytown. (Maple Pictures).

An audacious mix of Boogie Nights, Saturday Night Live and Studio 54, Funkytown is one of the more ambitious films to come out of Quebec.


The year was 1976, disco was the music on the radio and in Montreal The Starlight was the hot spot to get your groove on (inspired in part by the real Montreal mecca The Limelight.) Using the dance floor as the film's fulcrum, director Daniel Roby introduces a Nashville-sized cast of characters.

Funkytown-306.jpgThere's Bastien (Bon Cop Bad Cop's Patrick Huard), the king of Montreal's disco scene who splits his time between TV host and radio DJ. The style queen of the scene is openly gay Jonathan Aaronson, played with surprising sensitivity by Paul Doucet. Aaronson scouts new dancers for the show and lovers for his own bodacious harem. Like a groovier version of Hairspray, the Starlight is always packed with teens waiting to strut their stuff.  The latest rising stars are Tino and Tina, an unfortunately-named Italian couple looking to bump and hustle their way to fame and fortune. But wait, we're not done yet...Behind the scenes there's Daniel, the manager of the club, and Gilles, his father, who is Starlight's money man.  Oh and Gilles is also a record producer for Mimi, a faded starlet who can't get her French disco songs played.  


It takes a special director to reign in such a sprawling storyline, but director Daniel Roby is no Altman. Roby gets his camera prowling in and off the dance floor. Funkytown doesn't lack for energy. The soundtrack is packed with the type of English disco grooves that ruffled francophone feathers. The period details are correct down to the stubby Black Label bottles and baby blue leisure suits. But Funkytown covers so much ground the characters appear as artificial as their polyester pants suits.


Tino is conflicted about his lifestyle but wants to be a good Italian husband. Bastien begins doing enough blow to put Scarface to shame but keeps promising his daughter he'll be a better Dad.  And the most ludicrous of all, Gilles the record producer remakes Bastien's girlfriend as a disco star by pulling a Milli Vanilli a decade before their time.


In the end all the fancy footwork in the world can't save Funkytown as its characters begin their predictable spiral downward. While much of the story was inspired by real life, that doesn't make these cardboard cutouts convincing. C'est dommage. There's much on the periphery of this film to admire: the biligual story-telling style and the hints of how life in Montreal got less groovy as the referendum crept closer.  


 RATING: 2 cracked disco balls out of 5.


-- by Eli Glasner