Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Stars: Steve Coogan, Andy Serkis.
When it comes to a choice between the legend and the truth, always print the legend. And so it is with Michael Winterbottom’s colourful, erratic and energetic docu-drama depicting the rise and fall of the music scene in the industrial city of Manchester from the late ’70′s and to the early ’90′s. Manchester became the unlikely home to an explosion of new music when the Sex Pistols played their first gig in front of 42 people in a small hall in the late ’70′s. In the ’80′s, the city gave birth to influential bands like Joy Division, and eventually fostered the explosion of rave culture at the Factory Club.
At the centre of this new wave of music was self-professed entrepreneur Tony Wilson, a colourful television journalist who eventually founded Factory records and launched the careers of many bands. Far from being a conventional biopic about Wilson and his influence on the emerging music scene of Manchester, 24 Hour Party People becomes something of an excessive, free form docu-drama that amusingly blends fact and fiction and clearly “takes the piss.”
Director Winterbottom (better known for more serious and intensely bleak dramas like Jude, Welcome To Sarajevo, etc) uses a mix of fast edits and different film stocks to bring a documentary-like realism and sense of immediacy to the material. Breaking away from the usual conventions of the docu-drama format, Winterbottom also deftly breaks down that wall between the audience and his subject matter by having Wilson directly address the camera and act as our guide to key events and characters.
Comic Steve Coogan’s warts-and-all performance as Wilson is superb, capturing both his manic energy and self-aggrandizing style as well as his droll wit and his own sense of insecurity. But while Wilson is front and centre, many of the other characters take a back seat to his flamboyant persona, and we learn little about them. Only Andy Serkis (Gollum in The Two Towers) makes an impression as increasingly eccentric producer Martin Hannett.
Frenetically paced, energetic, chaotic, fitfully entertaining, decidedly quirky, but ultimately something of a mess, 24 Hour Party People is most likely to appeal to fans of both the era and the music, which have long since lost their relevance.