Sometimes a factual narrative rather than a full on documentary is the best way of telling a story. I’m sure that Manchester’s music scene has got numerous documentaries about it, some of which are very good. The bands that feature in 24 Hour Party People probably each have their own documentary, telling the story of their rise to fame, success and for some, ultimate failure. I know for a fact, the main subject of the movie, Tony Wilson, Factory Records and to a lesser extent the Hacienda, will definitely have lots of factual television about it, it being such a key part of Manchester and wider music history.
The issue with these documentaries arises when you get someone like me who doesn’t care enough about Manchester music, or any music in general, to watch a documentary. I will always be enticed to watch a movie based on the subject matter or actor involved and in this case, Steve Coogan was the person who drew me in.
It helped that my girlfriend loves Manchester, is obsessed with Manchester music and also loves Steve Coogan. She told me I had to see this movie and I could see why. It actually presents a very entertaining and interesting time in Manchester and music history, as well as introducing us to someone who is arrogant, often deluded but also slightly brilliant.
Which is why Steve Coogan was the perfect person to play Tony Wilson. You have to have a certain arrogance and confidence to deal with the amount of immature, diva-like musicians that Tony Wilson managed. Steve Coogan does this perfectly, with the added bonus that he doesn’t shy away from making a fool of himself, which this role also asks him to do from time to time.
In fact, the whole film is cast brilliantly. Considering it stars such music icons (in Britain at least) as Shaun Ryder, Ian Curtis and Bernard Sumner, they never seem to miss a beat. It’s a great film for spotting up and coming British talent, the stars of today in smaller, breakout roles. John Simm is a perfect example, playing the front man of New Order faultlessly.
Along those lines is the casting of Andy Serkis as Martin Hannett. This is a character that goes through a huge transformation as the film progresses and gets some of the best moments, alongside Coogan’s Tony Wilson. It’s easy to forget that Serkis is much more of an actor than his motion capture work would suggest and this is a perfect, early example of that talent.
How realistic the events in the film are is probably up for debate. It is supposed to a biographical piece, focusing on Tony Wilson, with other historical events occurring around him. Some of the events are definitely factually accurate, like the death of Ian Curtis, which has its own movie in the form of Control. Other times, his life seems slightly too absurd and crazy and the film itself references this, with Tony Curtis making the audience aware that its supposed to be a piece of entertainment rather than a straight factual account of events.
This is where I think 24 Hour Party People is at its strongest. I’ve seen plenty of biopics to know that each one has to indulge events or exaggerate real life to entertain. This movie takes it one, shameless step further, with hallucinations, real life people commenting on the actions of their fictional counterparts and purposefully blurring the line between fact and fiction, or documentary and entertainment.
That is why 24 Hour Party People surpasses a documentary on this time period and subject. It’s so much funnier, sillier and more entertaining. What better way to reflect the crazy, often insane time when Shaun Ryder’s Happy Monday’s were a musical success, than to create a film made in the same way, to mirror the same attitude and era.
Overall, 24 Hour Party People is well worth a watch, even if you are not a fan of Manchester, Manchester music or music in general. The performances are fantastic, particularly Coogan and Serkis and although the story sometimes reflects some tragic, real life events, it does a great job of never really taking itself too seriously.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)