“Party Monster” is a strange bird all right. Documentary Filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato have taken their documentary subject of a few years ago and given it a narrative makeover. The “Party Monster” in question is Michael Alig, a super-gay, New York club promoter who ended up committing a murder.
The story begins on the set of “Party Monster” (the documentary) where Seth Green now takes on the role of James St. James, the “club kid,” whose book Disco Bloodbath is the basis for the documentary and the new movie. St. James met Alig years before in New York and introduced him to the club scene. Alig took to it famously and ended up creating a whole “club kid” sub culture where it’s Halloween, Prom Night, Woodstock and New Year’s Eve every night. Alig became the Peter Pan of Party Kids, leading them all into a lifestyle that was like a prolonged party lasting for years on end. Alig now sits in jail for murdering a friend of his, a drug dealer named “Angel.”
McCaulay Culkin has resurfaced after a six-year vacation from acting to portray Alig. Now, it is said that Johnny Depp based his portrayal of Pirate “Jack Sparrow” on Keith Richards, and I think we will find out that McCaulay Culkin must have spent the last six years studying every nuance of Natalie Schafer (that’s Thurston’s “Lovey” from Gilligan’s Island) for his portrayal of Alig. It’s all there, the walk, the talk—startling indeed. Culkin adds a little twist: just about every sentence seems to raise up at the end and sound like a question.
The film is playful and never dares take itself too seriously, and neither do the characters. It is also apparent that the real-life Alig and St. James never took anything seriously either. The mantra of the club-kid is “we don’t DO, we just ARE” and that’s really how the movie plays, too. Style over substance, but that’s the whole point. Even the murder plays like a simple bit of trivia, the victim, after all, was just another useless club-kid who dealt drugs for the rest of them, so there’s really no emotional investment there, but again, it is interesting in a car accident kind of way. It’s hard not to look.
I’d gone into this movie thinking that club kids were all very uninteresting and had nothing to say about anything beyond what drug went with what drink and where to buy feather boas. Well, turns out I was dead right. Club kids are like those guys that rollerskate around Venice beach with a snake around their neck—I am totally devoid of substance and have trouble conversing, so I’ll bring this snake and I can talk to people about my snake.
That having been said, I never found the film to be boring. Knowing that the murder was coming did keep me interested, and I also was excited to see these little rich party-obsessed narcissistic jack-holes crash hard. Everybody knows you can’t keep up that kind of lifestyle for very long without it coming back to bite you in the arse, and thankfully it does bite some of them pretty hard.
The friendship between Alig and St. James is rather notable though, built less on a respect for each other than an addiction to each other’s personalities. Each one vying for the attention of the viewer, literally mugging to the camera to out-do the other—echoing the way it was in real life I suspect. Club kids really just wanted attention–to be famous just for being famous. This idea may have taken root with youngsters during that time and persists to this day in the form of reality TV shows, where people eat bugs (or worse) just to get their mugs on the tube.
Overall, I have to recommend the film for its alternate take on the whole “Leaving Las Vegas,” “Basketball Diaries,” “Less Than Zero” drug-induced tragedy genre. Remember to look for Marilyn Manson…and even John Stamos to pop up in an unexpected place.