The Last Days of Disco

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
The Last Days of Disco Movie Poster Image
Bittersweet, slow-moving period piece has sex, drugs.
  • R
  • 1998
  • 114 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No positive messages. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

No positive role models. 

Violence

While waiting outside a nightclub, three men attack one of the lead characters, striking him in the face with a club before running off; some blood. Some pushing and shoving between club-goers trying to get into an exclusive nightclub. 

Sex

Brief female nudity, breasts. Scene in which one character walks in on another having sex on a couch. Lead character contracts gonorrhea and herpes from a sexual encounter; the man who gave her these diseases initially tries to shame her and accuses her of being promiscuous before admitting he gave them to her. Sex is a recurring topic of conversation. 

Language

Infrequent profanity. "Bulls--t," "bitch," "sucks." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Frequent drinking and cigarette smoking. A lead character uses cocaine on a regular basis -- use indirectly shown through excessive sniffing while walking out of bathroom stalls and conversations about his drug use. Character caught by law enforcement with several baggies of cocaine. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Last Days of Disco is a 1998 coming-of-age film following the lives of a group of post-Ivy League friends who frequent an NYC disco circa 1980. There's some cocaine use (never directly shown, but strongly implied), cigarette smoking, and drinking. One of the lead characters, in the aftermath of her first sexual encounter, contracts gonorrhea and herpes; she's initially shamed by the man who gave her these venereal diseases and accused of having multiple partners before he confesses. While waiting outside a nightclub, three men attack one of the lead characters, striking him in the face with a club before running off; some blood. There's brief nudity in two scenes: A woman is topless on the dance floor, and a woman is shown topless while having sex. Language includes "bulls--t," "bitch," and "sucks." Overall, the adult content and relatively slow pace of the film make this best for mature older teens and up.

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What's the story?

It's THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO in 1980s New York City, and Alice (Chloe Sevigny) and Charlotte (Kate Beckinsdale) are best friends who work together as readers for a publishing house. As they struggle to earn a living on their meager salaries, they go to an exclusive discotheque at night.  Alice has designs on Jimmy (Mackenzie Astin), an ad rep who tries to impress potential clients by bringing them into the club. But after the manager of the disco, Jimmy's friend Des (Chris Eigeman), kicks Jimmy out of the club at the behest of Des's boss, who doesn't want Jimmy brining clients into the club, Charlotte talks Alice into going home with Tom (Robert Sean Leonard), someone they knew from college. Over the next several months, through job successes and failures, frayed friendships and reconciliation, and the impending end of the discotheque due to both tax fraud and the rapidly approaching demise of disco as a cultural phenomenon, the characters struggle to find contentment and success in their careers, no matter how elusive both seem to be. 

Is it any good?

This '90s look back at the '70s still works. Movies immersed in nostalgia work best when the romanticized past has enough "warts and all" to remind viewers that the past wasn't any better than the present. This is a huge part of why The Last Days of Disco remains entertaining years after its release. Set in 1980 during the last months of a discotheque that will be going out of business soon, the scenes wonderfully evoke the gray area between eras. In the discotheque, one sees both 1970s liberation in the fashions, standout individuals, and subcultures, and the onset of the preppy-yuppie conservative reaction just on the horizon -- sexual liberation on one end, the rapid spread of herpes and other venereal diseases on the other. 

Amid this backdrop, these characters are struggling to find themselves and their place in the world. They are neurotic, with precarious employment, suffering setbacks in their personal and professional lives. What emerges is how disco for them is a place for escape -- a place to forget their problems, even if they aren't successful in the attempt. The characters themselves aren't even necessarily likable -- each flawed and pretentious in their own way -- but that's part of what makes the movie so good. Most people in their early 20s aren't always fun to be around or half as interesting as they think they are. It's the unflinching look at the flaws in the characters and the time that makes The Last Days of Disco a solid evocation of a unique time in American culture. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about nostalgia in movies. How does The Last Days of Disco attempt to evoke a specific time and place? What are some ways that the movie is "pro disco," as opposed to more typical depictions of '70s culture (little more than loud fashions, dated music, etc.)? 

  • How is unsafe sex addressed in this movie? 

  • How does this film compare to other coming-of-age movies set in the 1970s or 1980s? 

Movie details

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