“This digital-video biopic uses the life of journalist, record mogul and club owner Tony Wilson to frame the story of the Manchester, England, music scene from the heyday of punk through the late-’80s “Madchester” era. As the founder of staunchly independent Factory Records, Wilson (Steve Coogan) shepherded the careers of doomed post-punk combo Joy Division, synth-pop superstars New Order and hedonistic louts the Happy Mondays. Along the way, he helped bring rave culture to Britain under the aegis of the legendary Hacienda nightclub. 24 Hour Party People follows Wilson from his conversion to punk at a seminal Sex Pistols concert through the suicide of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, the overwhelming success of New Order and the eventual dissolution of the Factory empire thanks to bad business decisions, underworld ties and the hedonistic excess of the Happy Mondays. Directed by Michael Winterbottom and written by frequent collaborator Frank Cottrell Boyce, 24 Hour Party People features cameos from a large number of Manchester music luminaries. The supporting cast includes Shirley Henderson and John Simm, both of whom appeared in Winterbottom’s Wonderland, while the film’s title comes from a Happy Mondays song. —
Restless and kaleidoscopic despite its sometimes drab digital-video palette, this supremely self-aware docu-comedy canonizes two decades worth of Manchester bands even as it deconstructs the very process of rock ‘n roll mythmaking. Steve Coogan is fantastic as Tony Wilson, who was at once pompous and populist, visionary and short-sighted. Through frequent asides in the direction of the audience, smirky voiceovers and likable self-mockery, Coogan personifies the contradictions that fuelled Wilson’s remarkably diverse string of musical discoveries. Frank Cottrell Boyce’s script risks alienating audience members unfamiliar with the large cast of rock-star characters; in America, where few of these bands ever escaped cult status, all of the grand pop-cultural pronouncements may provoke more head-scratching than head-nodding. But even at its most maddeningly musicological, the film portrays big emotions, big laughs and universal human frailties. The fine supporting cast helps ground Coogan’s larger-than-life performance, from Shirley Henderson’s swept-aside wife to Sean Harris and Danny Cunningham’s voraciously self-destructive creative types. In the end, jack-of-all-trades director Michael Winterbottom nails the particular combination of a time, a place and a sound that can crystallize in front of a global audience, if only for a little while.