Directed by Michael Winterbottom, 24 Hour Party People has the ability to appeal to more than just music buffs and fans of The Happy Mondays. The appeal is partly due to the clever screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce and partly due to the strong performances, most notably Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson.
Audiences in America aren’t exactly clamoring for a film biography of Tony Wilson. Most of us don’t even know who he is, and a lot of us don’t care.
In the UK, however, the situation is somewhat different. Because Tony Wilson is a British television staple, having hosted such shows as What’s On and the British version of Wheel of Fortune, Wilson is at the very least a recognizable figure. To music fans, though, he’s somewhat of a historic figure.
As it’s put in 24 Hour Party People, TV is just Wilson’s hobby. His real job is promoting music, and in the late ’70s, Wilson started a musical culture that continues to this day. Aside from forming Factory Records, a label that put out work by Happy Mondays and Joy Division, Wilson was the owner of the Hacienda nightclub in Manchester, England. The Hacienda has been credited (or blamed) for starting the rave culture.
But even with the cultural significance of Wilson’s tale, 24 Hour Party People would still be a tough sell to American audiences, if it hadn’t been done so darn well.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film are the occasional Brechtian asides by Coogan, explaining the action from the outside.
When Coogan pauses to speak to the audiences, he ceases to be Wilson. Although he is still in character, he speaks as merely that – a character in a film about a cultural icon.
At the end of the opening scene, after Wilson bangs himself up hang-gliding for a TV spot, Coogan says, “You’ll see a lot of these kinds of things in the film. It works on two levels, both the literal and the symbolic. All I have to say is Icarus. If you don’t understand that then you probably should read more.”
The asides offer a break from the blaring soundtrack and somewhat abrasive cinematography, giving the otherwise rambunctious film a human feel.
But even this does not make 24 Hour Party People a complete success.
While the storytelling goes a long way in reaching out to those who aren’t otherwise interested in the music, the soundtrack is unavoidable.
Not that it’s bad, but if it’s not your particular style of music, it is much harder to appreciate what’s going on in the film.
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