A review of “24 Hour Party People” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: R for sex, drug use, language

Run Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes

 

 

From the urban beat demimonde of 70s and 80s Manchester, England to the birth of the ubiquitous rave culture, this pop docudrama chronicles the ideological songmaker’s scene with loads of style and little substance.

Manchester circa 1976 was the epicenter of the music universe – a nihilistic environment of punk rockers, upscale drugs, hip young women, and the industrial chic of beat music. A fateful evening at the Sex Pistols’ debut performance (as one of 40 audience members) propels minor TV personality Tony Wilson (British comedian Steve Coogan) straight into the fickle heart of the music promotion biz. Wilson makes his mark as the manager of trade beat-band Joy Division, but suffers a major setback when lead singer Ian Curtis (Sean Harris) unexpectedly hangs himself on the eve of his American tour.

That tragic incident should have a pivotal impact on Wilson and on this affected film collage, but it does neither. Wilson bounces around from band to band, cheerfully holding forth (often directly into the camera) on his sex life, his groundbreaking label Factory Records, and the complicated finances of his popular Manchester hangout, Russell Club.  As pointed out repeatedly by our windbag of a tour guide, it’s all about the music.  Uncanny observation, since “24 Hour Party People” is about everything but. 

Considering the base raw energy of such cutting-edge bands as the Pistols, Happy Mondays and New Order (nee Joy Division), this is a graying fan’s letdown.  In real time, Factory Records was considered a fine purveyor of a distinct sound and a new look.  Neither is evident here, swallowed up as it is in a netherworld of agitated rhythm. Digital video contributes to the visual confusion – a profusion of sound and color that veers out of control with no thought to narrative structure or plot continuity.  Coogan elicits a few laughs, a saving grace when the going gets tough.