cast: Macaulay Culkin, Seth Green, Chloë Sevigny, Natasha Lyonne, and Dylan McDermott
directors: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato
95 minutes (18) 2003 widescreen ratio 16:9
Tartan DVD Region 0 retail
reviewed by John Percival
Party Monster is the colourful and disturbing tale of Michael Alig (Macaulay Culkin), a small-town boy who moves to New York and meets club promoter James St James (Seth Green). Inspired by James’ ultra flamboyant lifestyle, Michael dreams of being even more ‘fabulous’ than his friend. As his fantasy becomes reality his behaviour grows more and more shocking. With the ‘Club Kids’ explosion Alig is a media celebrity and number one promoter in club-land. However the spirit of success and hedonistic lifestyle comes at a price. The ‘Club Kids’ era seems to have been like a Studio 54 post-Warhol hangover colliding early 1990s’ clubbing day-glo, all wrapped up in a Pricilla Queen Of The Desert costume. A real problem with this drug addled über-gay Trainspotting is that although it is based on a true story, the characters seem too monstrous in their pursuit of being ‘fabulous’ to be real. Similarly the whole comedy narration of the story with James St James plugging his book Disco Bloodbath seems to distract from any recognisable reality.
I watched this film in two halves and to be honest my first impressions were that I hated it. I could not bypass my preconceived ideas of the two lead actors and how I felt they did not fit into the roles.
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Macaulay Culkin has suffered badly from being typecast as the annoying Home Alone kid and Party Monster represents his first film role since the equally annoying Richie Rich in 1994. It appears at the first glance that, desperate to shake this stereotype, he has forced himself into hot pants and set camp behaviour to maximum overdrive. He appears to be overacting but ultimately it is a level of extravagance that is required to drum into us how detached from reality Alig is. He walks up to Keoki (Wilmer Valderrama) and announces, “You will be my boyfriend” – he is that presumptuous. Also Seth Green who has developed in a number of good but similar roles plays against type as the bitchy James St James, he also happens to have an outrageous dress sense. Then I was frustrated by seeing one of my favourite musicians, Marilyn Manson, dressed as a doped out drag queen, Christina, who merely stumbles around before dying off-screen. The film felt like a carnival fever dream of garishly dressed clubbers going from one good time to the next.
However during the second half I found myself enjoying the comedy in the way over-the-top performances. Also the filming is quite brilliant, armed with some inspired costumes there a number of stunning shots, one involves the Club Kids walking down Times Square one in a chicken costume and one dressed as a steak (you have to see it!). For me the most powerful art camera visuals involved Angel (Wilson Cruz) in his great club gear just walking down an empty street with his angel wings following on behind.
There are also issues of power corrupting, in Alig being a misfit back home, he comes to New York to create a place for himself and others like him. He does this through sheer force of will and but his fantasy world has separates him from reality. He is drunk on celebrity, high on drugs and so certain of his own Club Kid world that he fails to see it destroying people around him and eventually killing someone. However this is presented in part by James having a worrying hallucination of a rat ‘ratting’ on Alig explaining how Alig killed Angel. There is some sadness and pity for fallen hero Alig, even though he never saw coming what everyone else did.
Culkin has taken the stereotype of that Home Alone kid, smashed it pieces and danced laughing on the remains, but he had to do it this over the top and camp film to succeed. However the image of Culkin in hot pants is a disturbing one that will haunt me for a very long time. I would have to say that Seth Green steals the show through pure overplaying. As James, he is a day-glo Sex In The City Samantha, but he has vulnerabilities that he protects unlike Alig who thinks he is invincible and that is why James leaves the story in a better position.
This film will upset a lot of people and even more will be uncomfortable by camp hedonistic drag queen performances filmed through an arty lens. But if they put any preconceived ideas aside, enjoy the comedy and amazing outfits, and forgive the talking-rat hallucination, then they will be rewarded with a amazing story. The interesting point to remember is that no matter how unbelievable the story is, it is based on a book written by one of the main characters, detailing true events as they happened at the time. It has probably led to quite a few people reading the book Disco Bloodbath to compare to the film or to get a further insight into James St James and Michael Alig, or maybe just enjoy some more of the caustic wit.
At the very least Party Monster is a stunning and also stark insight into the Club Kid culture of the 1990s and the price of being ‘fabulous’. It is a brave attempt by the two lead actors to convey a highly unusual and important story to a wider audience. For me it succeeds.
Extras on the DVD include an interview with the real Michael Alig; trailers; directors’ commentaries and some very interesting cast interviews. One interesting piece of information revealed by the interviews is that Macaulay Culkin bought Marilyn Manson his very first packet of cigarettes. If that surprises you then the film has many more waiting.