Michael Winterbottom never met a film genre he didn't want to take on, and oftentimes he blends unobtrusively into whatever style he's decided to adopt. For 24 Hour Party People, his biopic on Factory Records founder Tony Wilson and chronicle of the Manchester, England, music scene, Winterbottom steadfastly refuses to follow the conventions of either the biopic or the rock movie, and ends up with a much more rewarding and entertaining film for it. I feel like I never know what I'm going to get, quality-wise, when I sit down to watch a Winterbottom film, but 24 Hour Party People is one of his most entertaining and creative efforts.
You can see the excitement that Winterbottom gets from this music in every scene he shoots of musicians performing, something he does with great immediacy and style (the live musical performances were the only redeeming elements of his tedious art-porn movie 9 Songs). He captures the energy and danger of early Joy Division performances with much more exuberance than in Anton Corbijn's meticulous, deliberate Ian Curtis biopic Control, and he successfully conveys the chaos and giddiness of the Happy Mondays' live show, as an extension of the band's drug use and debauched behavior offstage.
But despite the character's protestations to the contrary, the movie is really about Tony Wilson, as played wonderfully by Steve Coogan. Coogan, who always has an air of unearned arrogance about him, is perfect for the part of the blowhard huckster who poured every ounce of himself into promoting the music and the hometown he loved, all while making virtually no money from it. Coogan frequently breaks the fourth wall to talk to the audience, glossing over stock biopic elements and making Wilson and the audience into co-conspirators in the grand Manchester adventure.
Winterbottom, too, gleefully smashes through expectations with scenes like Wilson imagining God giving him advice about album releases, or the members of the Happy Mondays poisoning a bunch of pigeons, shot partially from a pigeon's perspective. This anarchic sense of invention fits perfectly with the story of the unchecked growth of the Manchester music scene, and does as much to capture the feel of the time period as the set design and wardrobe and dialogue do. Sometimes the movie sacrifices coherence for style, and as someone not all that familiar with the music I occasionally had a hard time keeping minor characters straight. But the overriding sense is one of excitement and discovery, resulting in a movie every bit as daring and fun as the music it chronicles.