24 Hour Party People Review
Michael Winterbottom is, arguably, the closest thing that British cinema has to a fully fledged auteur at the moment. In the last few years, he has made a wide variety of films, from the war drama of Welcome to Sarajevo to the Thomas Hardy adaptations The Claim and Jude, via such grittily realistic films as Butterfly Kiss and Wonderland, arguably his most accomplished film to date. However, all his films are notable for their frequently offbeat technical style, the intense grimness of the subject matter, and a fondness for improvisation. 24 Hour Party People would thus appear to be a fairly typical product in his filmography. However, it instead comes across as a demented cross between I'm Alan Partridge, Velvet Goldmine and This is Spinal Tap, a strategy that pays off with decidedly mixed results.
The plot follows the rise and fall, Icarus-like, of Tony Wilson (Coogan), a Cambridge-educated Granada TV presenter by day and a rock and roll promoter by night. Wilson's peak came in the late 1970s, when, along with his business partner Alan Erasmus (James), he realised that there was vast potential in the new wave of Manchester punk bands, including Joy Division, complete with tragic lead singer Ian Curtis (Harris), as well as occasionally dealing with the Happy Mondays, led by Shaun Ryder (Cunningham). With the arrival of the Hacienda nightclub, owned by Wilson and Erasmus, Manchester's music scene was revitalised, even as Wilson lost a fortune due to his 'integrity', or appalling book-keeping skills, depending on how rosy-tinted a view is taken of history.
The biggest gamble taken by Winterbottom (presumably) and Coogan is to turn a dramatic story into more or less knockabout farce, with Wilson played as an Alan Partridge figure, occasionally battling bands with varying amounts of talent and failing to fully get to grips with everyday life. Hysterically funny scenes abound, whether they concern Wilson's day job as a reporter covering such vital news stories as a dwarf that washes elephants, his various sexual escapades, or even some of the throwaway one-liners (to Ryder, after the latter has started firing a gun: 'Careful, you could have someone's eye out with that!') While this is all highly entertaining, it does precisely nothing to illuminate the Manchester music scene, making the film work far better as a look at Wilson than those he was supposedly employing on his record label.
Stylistically, the film is often daring; there's a very, very post-modern scene around two-thirds of the way through when Wilson points out the real people cameoing in the film, notes that their scenes have been cut, and notes 'Oh well, it'll be on the DVD' (which, given Winterbottom's complete lack of interest in special features to date, may not be a certainty). Unfortunately, such moments as this, and another uproarious scene when Shaun Ryder poisons thousands of pigeons, and Winterbottom shoots the scene from a dying pigeon's perspective, add up to little in the context of the film; the film is ultimately too superficial to really engage with its subject matter, apart from brief, fleeting moments, such as the coverage of Curtis' suicide, which daringly mixes the surreal and the horribly realistic to successful effect.
The cast are all overshadowed by Coogan, who, however, has never been better; after his rather lacklustre turn in The Parole Officer, he here returns to the comic genius of Alan Partridge and Paul Calf, but also injects unexpected moments of pathos and humanity into the character, meaning that the film never quite turns into an extended sitcom skit. The cinematography by Lars Von Trier regular Robby Muller is often Dogme-influenced; it's strange to think that what once seemed daring and innovative is now standard practice for many low-budget British films. The soundtrack is excellent, as one would expect, albeit with an almost complete emphasis on Factory artists, rather than such bands as The Smiths, James or even (we were spared!) Oasis.
This is obviously going to be of most interest to either Steve Coogan fans or aficionados of the music depicted in the film; despite a fairly large base of appeal, then, it seems unlikely that the film will do significantly better than any of Winterbottom's others at the box office. Although it's too offbeat and bizarre to really become a popular film, it's not at all impossible that cult status may yet beckon for what is, in the final analysis, a fascinating, frustrating and occasionally brilliant curate's egg of a film.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 18:00:20