During the height of the disco craze in the 1970s, Montreal was the place to be. With such dance clubs as the Lime Light often compared to Studio 54, the city was second only to New York when it came to the North American disco scene.
That's the frenetic setting for Funkytown, which could be described as a coming-of-age movie for a whole city. Disco may have attracted international recording artists, but the movie begins in the mid-'70s, when locals in Montreal were engaged in a language civil war and still coming to grips with the October crisis, the election of the Parti Quebecois and the disastrously expensive Olympic Games in their city. It was a time of change and upheaval.
As if to reflect that uncertainty, Funkytown begins with a dark moment for one Bastien Lavallee (Patrick Huard), a man at the sad end of a terrific run. We meet him first in a seedy motel, asking, "What wrong turn did I take to get here?"
The movie then fills in the blanks.
The action starts in 1976, when Bastien is the uncrowned king of Montreal. (The character is loosely based on famed TV host Alain Montpetit.) We see him happily accepting graft in the way of a new Jaguar sports car.
Then we meet faded French Canadian pop star Mimi (Genevieve Brouillette), talent manager Gilles (Raymond Bouchard), a model named Adriana (Sarah Mutch) and a club kid called Tino (Justin Chatwin) who isn't sure if he's straight or gay. Likewise, meet Jonathan Aaronson (Paul Doucet) a gay media personality loosely based on Douglas (Coco) Leopold.
These people are the movers and shakers of the story, which is centered on a disco called the Starlight. Our main man, Bastien, is having a wonderful time being famous in his hometown. He has both a radio and a TV show and he parties all the time, much to the consternation of his wife.
Everybody in the story is on the make. The model, Adriana, is just about at the end of her career so she's happy to become Bastien's mistress. The club kids do whatever (or whomever) they can to ensure a spot dancing on Bastien's TV show, Disco Dance Party. Some are after money, some want fame or power, everyone snorts cocaine, drinks too much, has lots of illicit sex and dances all night.
Then it all starts to go south. The drugs take their toll, AIDS rears its ugly head, general corruption in the music business is exposed and people begin to fall apart. Next thing you know, there are punk bands on the scene and Bastien is on his way to New York. Change is in the air.
Funkytown is a bit of a mess, but it's a mess you can dance to. There are too many characters to care about and too many storylines to follow, but the high energy will carry you along and the performances are strong. All that great dance music aside, the film is a tragedy about greed and waste, and that goes for the big picture as well as the small. The movie is in both English and French.