If my constant praise for the musical Taboo, the music of Boy George, and Drag Race contestants with a Club Kid aesthetic didn't tip you off, allow me to be direct. I have a strong fascination with the NYC Club Kid culture of the 80s. It is such a twisted world of art, fashion, music, and fame to just dig into and play around with. James St. James' memoir Disco Bloodbath is adapted in appropriately strange and sarcastic ways for the feature film Party Monster. You know the whole story in the first two scenes. James St. James lives with party promoter Michael Alig in his apartment in NYC. Michael admits to the murder of drug dealer Angel in self defense. James, so used to the ridiculous lengths Michael will go to for his parties, assumes it's a joke and ODs on heroin. The rest of the film is told in flashback, from the time the pair first meet to the final blowout party before Michael's arrest.
Unsurprisingly, a film based on a memoir fueled by partying and drug abuse reads almost as fantasy. The slow realization that these things really did happen under all the glitter and techno of the club scene makes it all the more disturbing.
The cast really sells the strange story like nobody's business. Seth Green and Macaulay Culkin, as James St. James and Michael Alig, respectively, have the perfect chemistry as the real life opportunistic frenemies. They commit to the sarcastic barbs and constant high from drugs as strongly as they commit to walking around covered in head to toe latex or buckets of blood and exposed organs.
The rest of the cast is fleshed out with a strange mix of dynamic actors and personalities that make smaller moments work. Marilyn Manson is unrecognizable as a would-be club superstar. Natasha Lyonne and Chloë Sevigny escape their drab lives in Texas to live with Michael in NYC after the Club Kids' appearance on a national talk show. Dylan McDermott is the perfect blend of opportunistic and clueless to allow Michael and James free reign over his night club. Wilmer Valderamma hits his role as Michael's on-again, off-again boyfriend just right. And Wilson Cruz is mesmerizing as the stoic, soft-spoken Angel, forced into a life of dealing drugs at Michael's command.
Party Monster is a fascination more than a successful film. The structure is a bit loose and gimmick often wins out over advancing the narrative. Taken individually, these funny asides and almost-slapstick moments work. Pulled together, they start to weigh down the energy of the film. It's an interesting experiment in style that just comes short of really serving the subject well.
Party Monster is currently streaming on Netflix.