24 Hour Party People

Tony Wilson helped put Manchester on the map in the world of music beginning in the mid to late seventies. He helped shepherd bands like Joy Division (later New Order) and the Happy Mondays with his label Factory Records. 24 Hour Party People is an audacious quick look at a period that spans about two decades. Much of the movie may not make any sense, due to thick accents, anonymous bands and blurred identifiers, but the movie still has a sense of vitality and energy to it. There is something amazing going on in Manchester over this time period, and even if director Michael Winterbottom (The Claim, Wonderland) cannot fully convey it in a coherent sense, there are some bright points in the near-mess that he makes. Near-mess may actually be appropriate, since Wilson (Steve Coogan, The Parole Officer, A Small Summer Party) doesn't always know exactly what he is doing.

It all started when he attended a Sex Pistols concert in Manchester. Although there were only about forty people in the audience, the experience changed him. He wanted to make the music he liked, not what the radio was playing (a relevant issue even today). He started Factory Records, a unique model where he really has no ownership of the band. He helps them make music and the split the profits. Joy Division was the first band to come out on the label. Winterbottom and writer Frank Cottrel Boyce (The Claim, Pandemonium) jump ahead quickly, spotlighting pivotal moments in the history of Factory Records. On the eve of an American Tour, lead singer Ian Curtis (Sean Harris, Tom & Thomas, Jesus) hung himself. Later, the remaining band members reemerged to even more success as New Order. The other major band spotlighted is The Happy Mondays, and their troubled lead singer Shaun Ryder (Danny Cunningham, Loaded). Ryder's drug habits were a constant thorn in the side of Wilson. Later, Wilson and some of his partners opened The Hacienda, a club to spotlight the music they liked. The club continually lost money, and eventually fell prey to drugs and violence.

Coogan as Wilson is the most memorable aspect of 24 Hour Party People. Winterbottom jumps haphazardly from scene to scene, with very little context. Unless the viewer has a working knowledge of New Wave music, it may be hard to tell who exactly is on screen, and sometimes hard to care. But Coogan is such a vibrant and unique character that it is enough of a distraction from the film to watch him. Winterbottom has Coogan address the audience in first person, frequently giving some asides or explaining something. He also intersperses 24 Hour Party People with some of Wilson's human interest stories from his concurrent job as a television reporter. They are truly bizarre in their mundanity and contrast nicely with the madness going on in other aspects of Wilson's life.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 55 minutes, Rated R for strong language, drug use, and sexuality.

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