With a killer soundtrack and a setting in late 1970s Montreal, Funkytown is an exciting bilingual film that tackles some pretty big topics, including drug abuse, the francophone independence referendum, Quebecois music and the inevitable death of disco. The film revolves around the Starlight, a fictionalized version of Montreal's famed Lime Light discothèque and the lives of eight people who lived and breathed for the club. Starting in 1976, when Montreal was considered one of the world's top nightclub destinations, the story ends in 1982 when the fashion for disco was about to experience a sharp decline.
Spoken using both English and French, the film really captures the essence of bilingual life in Quebec or even New Brunswick, at the time. The use of both languages makes the film easy to follow should one choose to elect no subtitles at all. Much like the 2006 bilingual comedy Bon Cop Bad Cop, Funkytown really makes you feel like you’re part of the scene. And from my personal experiences in Quebec and New Brunswick during my youth, I can distinctly remember a very bilingual atmosphere, which gives this film a very real feeling for me.
It’s interesting to see some of the French reviews of the film, which range from calling it the Boogie Nights of Quebec to lashing it for its use of both languages (La Presse going so far as to say that it only contained token French). From my English perspective the film was a great watch (yes, I needed the subtitles), as well as a good look at the disco era, which for the most part is only ever seen in awful T-edited broadcasts of Saturday Night Fever.
Patrick Huard played grease ball TV host Bastien Lavallée to the extreme, as we watched not only the death of disco, but the decline of his humanity through sex, drugs and ego. Lavallée’s TV appearances came across like a version of Alain Montpetit, who I remember watching on television when my family took trips through Quebec to New Brunswick in the late 70s and 80s – there’s nothing quite like that today. Sarah Mutch was also stunning as the glammed-up Adriana, who rose to fame lip-syncing the voice of another singer. The entire cast was on the money the entire film with Paul Doucet standing out as Jonathan Aaronson, the flamboyant gay radio, television and fashion personality and trendsetter, who eventually took Lavallée’s place on the TV show.
Funkytown is a phenomenal film and most certainly a good homage to an era of music and culture that has long since disappeared.