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Party Monster (2003)
Party Monster is a 2003 American biographical crime drama film that details the rise and fall of infamous New York party promoter Michael Alig. The movie stars Macaulay Culkin as the drug-addled "King of the Club Kids." Written and directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the film is based on Disco Bloodbath, the memoir of James St. James which details his friendship with Alig, that later fell apart as Alig's drug addiction worsened, and ended after he murdered Angel Melendez and went to prison. A 1998 documentary on the murder, also called Party Monster: The Shockumentary, was used for certain elements of the film. Party Monster made its world premiere at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival on January 18, 2003, and later played at the Cannes Film Festival in May of that year. On September 5, 2003, the film was put on limited release to different art house theaters in major US cities. Based on the book Disco Bloodbath, by James St. James, the film opens with Michael Alig (Culkin) as a small-town outcast who lived with his mom before moving to New York. Michael learns the New York party scene from James St.
The closest thing to a best friend that Alig had was James St. James (Seth Green), a trust fund kid with pretenses of writing the Great American Novel but who dulled the agony of his writer's block with endless clubbing and drugging. Sauntering about the streets of New York in a collection of designer trash togs, James was the role model for Alig when he first came to town. When Alig started making a name for himself, throwing parties at Limelight for easily-charmed Peter Gatien (Dylan McDermott in a fierce eyepatch), he put together a band of self-created 'superstars' decked out in baroque costumes, modeled on Warhol's Factory of people who were famous for being famous, and James was the biggest; after Alig, of course. 'I didn't want to be like the drearies and normals,' he says, 'I wanted to create a world full of color, where everyone could play. One big party that never ends.'
It was a motley band of stars-in-training that Alig brought along on his rapidly accelerating funhouse ride, ranging from the callow and innocent DJ Keoki (Wilmer Valderrama, Fez from That 70s Show) to the stumbling drug casualty Christina (a purposefully incoherent Marilyn Manson). They all wanted basically the same things that Alig did - fun, clubbing, no responsibilities - and were more than willing to hitch themselves to him. They do the talk show circuit (the oily, Maury Povich-like host of one of them played to perfection by John Stamos, of all people) and go on a 'recruiting' trip to a Dallas nightclub. When Alig's band is told that they're on in five minutes, they look around in confusion: 'Show? We don't do anything.'
One by one, they mostly fall away, either through OD-ing, running out of money, or just moving on. James keeps hovering around, even as Alig's life goes into fatal tailspin mode, because even as much as he can't stand this blindingly selfish, hedonistic mini-monster, like everyone else, he's fascinated. So fascinated, that James ended up curing his writer's block by writing a book about the murder, Disco Bloodbath, which was the basis for Party Monster. 'At least he gave me something to write about,' James giggles at the end. (There's also a documentary about the murder by the same name available.)
Filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) gave themselves a pretty risky high-wire act to pull off, especially for documentarians trying out feature film for the first time. Not content to tell the story in typical 'ripped from the headlines' fashion, they seem to want to plant the viewers right inside Alig's deranged world. Concessions to reality peek in around the corners -- an unpaid bill, a filthy apartment -- but it's quickly whirled away by another techno-backed, drug-fueled montage.
The style is hit-or-miss at first, seeming a little too preciously postmodern, as Alig and James sit on a bed arguing over who's going to be able to tell the story of the movie (James wins, of course, it's his book). But Culkin (in his first feature role since 1994's Richie Rich) and Green, both just as fabulous and pretentious as they can be, pull it off. They talk in odd, Madonna-English accents, with lots of darlings, which works seamlessly with the film's hyperactive, glittery feel; it's like being locked in a pixie dust-coated playhouse.
If a criticism could be made, it's that Bailey and Barbato fell a little too much in love with Alig. While James' book acknowledges Alig's killer charm - how else could he have gotten so far with so little otherwise? - but is pretty unsparing in its depiction of an uncaring murderer. The filmmakers seem to want to find the lost little boy inside, when in actuality, by the end, all that was left was the callous, grinning shell.