Many people will recall the original version of 54 (1998), and even more will recall the theme song “If you could read my mind” which was a huge hit. Well now 54: The Director’s Cut (2015) has surfaced and gotten a fair bit of festival buzz. Let’s face it, Director’s Cut is more often than not a meaningless term. But from what I understand, this truly does reinstate director Mark Christopher’s more sexually complex original vision that was butchered by the studio.
Having never seen the original release, I was not entirely sure what to expect from this director’s cut, or even if it was worthwhile for me to see. Turns out that it really was a worthwhile film to make time for at the festival. For starters, this version of it is a bit of an interesting experiment. The film quality differs wildly between the sequences in the original release and those new to the director’s cut. As such, each new sequence is loudly announced by a pronounced drop in film quality. Whether or not this was a budgetary issue in putting out this version, or a conscious choice, the result is that the film feels almost experimental, a commentary on the concept of director’s cuts. At first the technique did not work at all for me, taking me out of the world of the film. That never really changes, but the announcing of the new scenes by the end of the film had me leaning a little closer to the screen, anxious to see what the studio had vetoed the first time around, in the knowledge that it would either be interesting in and of itself or at the very least, worthwhile to ponder more.
The very New York centric story follows Shane O’Shea, played by Ryan Philippe. At the start of the film, Shane moves from the much more suburban Jersey, to New York. There he finds himself right in the middle of the hottest club in the 70s, Studio 54, run by Mike Myers’ drug addled Steve Rubell. On one level the film tracks Shane’s fun and disco coming of age alongside the ups and eventual downs of the club. But it’s also about a societal awakening, a breaking down of barriers of sexuality, a time when a new paradigm was fast overtaking the tired old one. Though this pace would obviously slow, as we are still facing some of these tired old attitudes and perceptions today. The characters encompass sexual fluidity and ambiguity that is rarely seen in mainstream film and this is clearly something that has been re-emphasised by this cut. Thankfully too, because it is what sets the film apart from more conventional coming of age stories.
Ryan Phillipe seems to be a relatively maligned dude, despite the fact he has done good work in films such as The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) and Stop-Loss (2008). But this is certainly his best performance. He nails that late-teen awkwardness, wanting to party and experiment but not being sure how. The character is a really well constructed and written one, the audience sympathising with his naiveté no matter how daft some of his life choices occasionally appear. Selma Hayek and Breckin Meyer are also good as the young couple who are Shane’s guides through this very new part of his life. They show him the ropes, invite him into their homes and prove staunch allies no matter what. Mike Myers and Neve Campbell were probably the biggest names on the cast, though their roles are smaller than the marketing of the time would have you believe. Both are good though, especially Campbell as a star who threatens to sweep in and provide the film with a much more conventional third act.
Verdict: Has this new cut of the film unearthed a long lost, stone-cold classic? No. But it does deliver a coming of age story you rarely see (read a bisexual one basically). It also delivers laughs, great music and the odd heartbreaking moment. A worthy watch, both for those who have seen the previous cut and folks like me who come to it having never seen the originally released version. Stubby of Reschs