Wednesday, July 13, 2011

24 Hour Party People (2002) ***

I’ve recently become a fan of a couple of geniuses of British comedy, Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan. If the names aren’t familiar, the faces might be. The two have done a ton of work in England, and have both done small roles in a number of U. S. productions. I know Brydon best from his role as Uncle Bryn, in “Gavin and Stacey.” I was less familiar with Coogan until recently, but I recognize his face from movies like “The Other Guys” and “Tropic Thunder.” He actually looks a bit like Eric Idle (Monty Python), but Coogan’s humor is more along the awkward lines of Ricky Gervais.

Now that I’ve talked about these actors’ comedy skills, I have to point out that while they are both in “24 Hour Party People,” it is not, strictly speaking, a comedy. The movie has plenty of humor, but what it is is a rather dizzy portrayal of the 1980’s Manchester music scene, which gave us brilliant bands like Joy Division, New Order, James, and The Happy Mondays. Steve Coogan stars as Tony Wilson, the TV personality who started Factory Records and introduced these bands to a grateful world. He discovered and promoted Joy Division, mourned the suicide of their lead singer, and nurtured the rest of the band as they re-emerged as New Order. He discovered the Happy Mondays, and struggled to get them to stay sober long enough to make some records. While promoting all this great music, he also started the first rave club, The Hacienda, kicking off a worldwide movement. As good as his ear for music was, Wilson was a terrible businessman (according to the film), and he managed not to really make any money out of the whole affair. Still, he made possible a tremendous amount of good music, and he put his hometown of Manchester on the music map.

Watching “24 Hour Party People” is a bit like being at one of Wilson’s raves. The handheld camera work and documentary style are disorienting even if you are familiar with the music. Coogan occasionally breaks character to speak directly to the camera, which takes some getting used to, and they sort of assume that you know these bands and their music. It’s a really fun ride, though. You just have to hold on and let it sweep you along. The one caveat is that this movie is really only for fans of the music. If you have never heard of the bands I mentioned here, then I don’t know that this story will hold any interest.

3 stars

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