24 Hour Party People

on August 09, 2002 by Sheri Linden
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Michael Winterbottom's tribute to the birth of rave culture in his hometown of Manchester, “24 Hour Party People” is a smart, gritty and visually inventive film. Winterbottom and scripter Frank Cottrell Boyce pull no punches about sex, drugs and rock ‘n' roll, and have a great time doing it. Fans of Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays, key figures in the story, will find special appeal in this look at the rise and fall of a homegrown music scene.

The characters are larger than life and real. Relating the tale is visionary entrepreneur Tony Wilson, self-proclaimed genius behind the Hacienda, onetime center of the club universe. In 1976, after an epiphany at the Sex Pistols' first show, where he was one of only 42 people in the audience, the frustrated TV reporter buys a cavernous industrial space that he transforms into a music haven and, indirectly, into a goldmine for Ecstasy dealers. As hugely popular as it was, the club never made money for Wilson or the heart of his empire, Factory Records, whose key high-maintenance artists are superbly played by Ian Curtis, as Joy Division's fatally depressed singer-songwriter Sean Harris, and Danny Cunningham as Shaun Ryder, the manic, incorrigible leader of Happy Mondays.

Though the film never gets under the skin of its characters, it presents them so vividly and honestly that the impression it leaves is searing, jubilant and mournful. Steve Coogan affects a fitting hangdog arrogance as the off-center narrator of the story, the genially intense, hyper-intelligent Wilson. He has rich material in the sharp script--complete with voiceover narration and droll asides to the camera. Paddy Considine and Andy Serkis are memorable as, respectively, Tony's perpetually pissed-off partner and the half-insane producer of Factory records. As Wilson's first wife, Shirley Henderson delivers a fine turn, particularly in a strong sequence involving casual retaliatory sex.

The visual flourishes Winterbottom and cinematographer Robby Muller use throughout the DV-shot film work brilliantly to heighten the story and sense of place, never overwhelming the drama. With its strong cast and verite sensibility, “Party People” is an often exhilarating portrait of the passionate, mad individuals who took no prisoners as they forged a new musical culture. Starring Steve Coogan, Paddy Considine, Danny Cunningham, Sean Harris, Shirley Henderson, Lennie James, Andy Serkis and John Simm. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Produced by Andrew Eaton. A United Artists release. Drama. Rated R for strong language, drug use and sexuality. Running time: 117 min

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