A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"24 Hour Party People," which tells the story of the Manchester music scene from the first Sex Pistols concert until the last bankruptcy, shines with a kind of inspired madness. It is based on fact, but Americans who don't know the facts will have no trouble identifying with the sublime posturing of its hero, a television personality named Tony Wilson, who takes himself seriously in a way that is utterly impossible to take seriously.
Wilson, a real man, is played by Steve Coogan, who plays a Wilsonoid TV personality on British TV. That sort of through-the-looking-glass mixing of reality and fancy makes the movie somehow more true than a factual documentary would have been. Wilson is a lanky man with the face of a sincere beagle, a flop of hair over his right eyebrow, and an ability to read banal TV copy as if it has earth-shaking profundity. He's usually the only man in the room wearing a suit and tie, but he looks like he put them on without reading the instructions. He is so heartfelt about his lunacies that we understand, somehow, that his mind deals with contradictions by embracing them.
As the film opens, Wilson is attending the first, legendary Sex Pistols concert in Manchester, England. Here and elsewhere, director Michael Winterbottom subtly blends real newsreel footage with fictional characters so they all fit convincingly into the same shot. Wilson is transfixed by the Pistols as they sing "Anarchy in the U.K." and sneer at British tradition. He tells the camera that everyone in the audience will leave the room transformed and inspired, and then the camera pans to show a total of 42 people, two or three of them half-heartedly dancing in the aisles.
Wilson features the Pistols and other bands on his Manchester TV show. Because of a ban by London TV, his show becomes the only venue for punk rock. Turns out he was right about the Pistols. They let loose something that changed rock music. And they did it in the only way that Wilson could respect, by thoroughly screwing up everything they did, and ending in bankruptcy and failure, followed by Sid Vicious' spectacular murder-suicide flameout. The Sex Pistols became successful because they failed; if they had succeeded, they would have sold out, or become diluted or commercial. I saw Johnny Rotten a few years ago at Sundance, still failing, and it made me feel proud of him.