24 Hour Party People (2002)

24 Hour Party People (2002)

A fittingly punk history of the colorful heyday of Manchester’s music scene

The Very Best

8.5

Movie

United Kingdom
English
Comedy, Drama, Music
2002
MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM
Andy Serkis, Chris Coghill, Christopher Eccleston
117 min

TLDR

Puts so many biopics to shame.

What it's about

A gleefully “print the legend, not the facts” look at the musical revolution kickstarted by Manchester’s Tony Wilson and his Factory Records label.

The take

Here’s a biopic that focuses on capturing the feel of the era it depicts, rather than all the facts — and is all the better for it. 24 Hour Party People takes the same punk approach to storytelling as its subjects did to music, playfully throwing off the dull constraints that often make based-on-a-true-story movies feel like uninspired celluloid translations of a Wikipedia page. 

In the film’s opening scene, Steve Coogan’s Tony Wilson breaks the fourth wall to address us directly and semi-spoil the movie’s ending. But it doesn’t matter, because the ride is so fun: we’re taken on an immersive trip through the heyday of the Manchester music scene: the births of Joy Division, New Order, the Happy Mondays, and Wilson’s Factory Records label and legendary Hacienda nightclub, an incubator for acid house and rave culture. The era’s hedonism is brought to life by the movie’s frenetic editing, documentary-style cinematography, and strobe-heavy visuals. For all its onscreen anarchy, though, the movie remarkably never feels loose or self-indulgent. Its irreverence is grounded by the ironic filter of the meta filmmaking, which frequently breaks the fourth wall to draw attention to its own conceits. A refreshing rejection of biopic tropes, but also a thrilling transportation into and evocation of the Madchester era.

What stands out

From Paddy Considine and Andy Serkis to Sean Harris and Shirley Henderson, 24 Hour Party People is stacked with some of British cinema's greatest talents, but Coogan is the obvious standout. In places, his often-improvised performance as impresario Tony recalls the caricature feel of his Alan Partridge character — fittingly tongue-in-cheek for such an openly insubordinate biopic. Though much of the film is a thrilling, droll ride, the Manchester music scene wasn’t all fun and games (its early days were rocked by the suicide of Joy Division’s 23-year-old Ian Curtis) so 24 Hour Party People also calls on Coogan’s dramatic abilities alongside his comic mastery. It’s a difficult tonal balance to achieve, but Coogan nimbly pulls it off and gives the movie the guiding performance it needs to realize its audacious ambitions.

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