Patrick Huard leads the large ensemble cast playing Bastien Lavallée, the French Dick Clark of disco and host of a popular television dance show. Through Lavallée “Funkytown” weaves together a collection of characters—a flamboyantly gay trend setter, a closeted dancer and his unsuspecting girlfriend, an ambitious model and a sleazy record producer—into a story where glamorous nightlife collides with real life. After watching the movie I thought maybe the fundamentalists were right. Maybe the gyrating rhythms of disco were bad for us. They certainly are for the characters in the film. More than fallen arches and sore knees these characters suffer from everything from drug addiction to the onslaught of AIDS.
“Funkytown” is an ambitious movie which takes elements of reality—the Lavallée character is loosely based on the sad and sordid life of Montreal DJ and game show host Alain Montpetit—mixed with disco clichés. On the surface—and let’s face it, disco was all surface, no substance—the movie nails it, from the unenlightened club owner boasting on television that his disco has a “special floor for homos” to the clutter of 70s artefacts—the horn pendants, the coke snorting and wide collars—to the thumping soundtrack. It’s when we get into the substance that “Funkytown” runs into problems.
With such a mix and match of stories—I lost count after eight plot threads—it’s almost impossible to give each plotline the weight it deserves.
As a result we get a cautionary tale about how self destructive the business of hedonism can be that plays like a cross between “Boogie Nights” and “So You Think You Can Dance” but without the weight of the former and the fun of the latter. It skims over the stories like John Travolta doing the Russian kick dance around the dance floor in “Saturday Night Fever.” Less a story than a melodramatic check list of disco culture it forgoes the opportunity to delve into any one story too deeply. It even skates over the language issues which defined Quebec in the 1970s with several veiled references to the Referendum and the story of a former star who can’t get her French single played in French dance clubs.
“Funkytown” suffers from being too literal—for instance, the soundtrack blares the Tavares hit “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” as Lavallée lays eyes on his slinky love interest for the first time—and spreading itself too thin and as a result at well over two hours feels almost as long as the decade itself.