Film review: 24 Hour Party People

Published: Friday, Oct. 4 2002 8:47 a.m. MDT

Movies made about rock musicians or rock music are usually problematic at best.

Some get the story right but get the music all wrong ("Rock Star," with its cringe-inducing glam-metal). Others — many others — get the music right but fumble around with the story (such as 1994's "Backbeat," with its sparkling reinterpretation of Beatles songs).

"24 Hour Party People" is one of the few that get both right. This rambling comedy-drama looks at Manchester's music scene both in the '70s (during the punk-rock and New Wave movements) and the '80s (with the advent of house-music and raves).

Still, it's sometimes incoherent and could use at least some editing (it feels about 15 minutes too long) — not to mention subtitles to understand some of the dialogue and scorecards to keep track of certain important characters.

The film purports to be a bio of Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan), the founder of Manchester's Factory Records, and traces his quick rise and even faster meteoric fall.

We first see Wilson working as a television reporter, using his program to tout important musical acts, such as the Sex Pistols. However, he wants to make more of a contribution, so he opens his own club. He also signs the label's first band, Warsaw (later Joy Division), which becomes a success but which also helps usher in the darkest period of his life when the band's singer Ian Curtis (Sean Harris) kills himself, and when Wilson's wife, Lindsay (Shirley Henderson), leaves him.

Surprisingly, he comes out of these dual tragedies a stronger person. He next opens the Hacienda, a night spot for bands to audition and perform, where he discovers the Happy Mondays — a musical act that helps propel him to even greater heights.

Director Michael Winterbottom gets the look and feel of the various periods right (the terrific soundtrack certainly helps). But a lot still depends on the lead performance, and, luckily, British comedian Coogan is more than up to the task. There is also able support from his co-stars, especially Harris, whose turn as the tragic Curtis is haunting.

"24 Hour Party People" is rated R for frequent use of strong, sex-related profanity and crude sexual slang terms, simulated drug use (marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy), violence (rioting and gunplay), simulated sex and sex acts, full female and male nudity, and brief gore. Running time: 115 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com