Tony Manero: Saturday Night Fever Turns Deadly

DATELINE:  Hollywood Obsessions


Pablo Larrain is a name we are likely to encounter again– and often.

The director from Chile has several powerful new movies in debut to great accolades, including Neruda and Jackie. So, we returned to an early effort from Chile in 2008—but American in many ways and a precursor to the later movies.

Tony Manero is an uncomfortable film, throwing viewers off the easy treat they may have signed on to see. Manero is a character from a famous movie with John Travolta: Saturday Night Fever.

In Santiago, a fifty-year old obsesses over re-enacting the role on an auditions TV program as a Manero impersonator. He will dance his disco ass off to the famous BeeGee classic.

Though this premise of Hollywood’s power over fans seems harmless, there is a sudden dark shift in the story. Raul will do anything to win his contest for the Manero prize.

Creating a banal and pathetic lounge act in the slums of Chile, he and his dance partners dance for live audiences. However, without a job or money, Raul must release his sociopathic and dangerous self to achieve his ultimate goal.

This is not a movie about a movie collector, but a horrifying and desperate version of Richard III.  He will murder anyone who stands in his way of winning a cheap competition on small-time television.

What might have been cute or distracting, centering on the spectacular dance Travolta did in Saturday Night Fever, becomes a nightmare of brutality and ugliness.

Nearly catatonic, Raul only comes to life when he dons the white suit and dances his tail off in spectacular mimicry.

The result of how a desire for small-time fame turns into banal violence is movie lover’s hypnotic and surreal event, but suddenly evolves into a disturbing and horrific nightmare.

Yes, Larrain promises something wicked and delivers. It is almost unbearable.