Until the separatist Parti Quebecois came to power in 1976, Montreal - not Toronto - was the economic and cultural capital of Canada. And during the disco era, Quebec's largest city had a nightlife like no other. In Funkytown, an ambitious portrait of Montreal's late-seventies rise and fall, a discotheque owner huffs that Studio 54 copied them, not the other way around.
For its first hour, Funkytown is absolutely intoxicating. The film follows about a dozen disco celebrities, former celebrities, and wannabe celebrities as their paths cross at the city's hottest club, the Starlight disco. There's Bastien (Patrick Huard), an actor-turned-DJ who hosts Parti Disco Dance on local TV. And Jonathan (Paul Doucet), a flamboyantly gay fashionista who takes a liking to one of the show's young dancers, Tino (Justin Chatwin), who struggles with his sexuality.
And then there's Gilles (Raymond Bouchard) a famed Quebecois record producer who lent money to his son to open the place (and never lets him forget it), a washed-up singer reduced to working as a waitress while trying to make a comeback with disco, and an aging fashion model who hooks up with Bastien to break into television before switching to Gilles to make it into music. And then there's Bastien's wife and daughter, and Tino's mother and her restaurant, and...
Funkytown has enough characters and plot for three or four movies, but for much of its running time, director Daniel Roby effectively holds it all together. Working with a budget of just over $7 million, he made a splendid-looking film that brilliantly captures the look and feel of 1976, despite a few anachronisms. Some of the long tracking shots, like the one of Bastien entering the TV studio at the beginning of the film, bring Goodfellas to mind. And the music - a mix of disco classics (some cover versions) and some convincing originals - is all over the place (If nothing else, Funkytown got me to put "Daddy Cool" on my iPod).