The days of druggy, sexual excess in New York’s club scene are long past — or at least more on the down low than during the glittery ’70s and ’80s. While Gotham’s hedonism has been chronicled to death by the likes of Whit Stillman, it’s not until now that the club kid phenomenon has been captured so vividly. Party Monster spins the true-life tale of Michael Alig (Macaulay Culkin), who went from young, innocent, Midwestern gay kid to young, fabulous, drug-addled party promoter for the club Limelight. His only job was to exist so that others could flock to him and his parties, and he performed his task exceedingly well. Greed was good, and Alig was greedy indeed.
Word of Party Monster has been floating around for some time now as Culkin’s return to film favor. This is Mac’s first movie since 1994’s Richie Rich; in the meantime, he got married at 17 and separated at 19, watched his brother Kieran snap up plum adolescent roles, and matured into a man who looks like a little boy. It’s a look appropriate to Culkin’s character. There’s a disturbing symmetry between Culkin and Alig, both of whom shot to fame too fast, too soon and ended up famously burning out in the pages of People magazine. In the case of Culkin, his fame skidded to a halt as his parents fought over his millions, while Alig ended up in prison on a manslaughter conviction.
Alig’s total childishness prevents Culkin’s performance from reaching anything approaching great heights. But Seth Green, who plays Alig’s preening patron-cum-guidance counselor James St. James (whose chronicle of Alig’s exploits, Disco Bloodbath, provides the source material for the film), is practically a revelation — and would have achieved that in toto had the movie had any actual substance to it. Green disappears so completely into his role as an upper-class, Special K-freak drag queen that he actually makes us forget he was once the impossibly cute, sarcastically brooding Oz on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, delivering a performance that could easily out-Blanche DuBois Vivien Leigh.
Co-writers and -directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato have worked together on several documentaries, including The Eyes of Tammy Faye and a nonfiction version of Party Monster. This is their first attempt at a movie with real actors, and they round up a good cast. Their script, however — despite several forays into delirious surrealism — is bound by reality, and there just isn’t that much interest you can drum up in watching Alig and his pals gobble drugs and don outrageous costumes. It’s meant to be something of a murder mystery, but there’s barely any mystery and very little murder. In the end, Party Monster is a victim of its subjects’ own excesses.
Showing exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-263-2111.
Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.