Owen Gleiberman
September 12, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Party Monster

Current Status
In Season
98 minutes
Limited Release Date
Macaulay Culkin, Seth Green, Lucy Liu, Natasha Lyonne, Marilyn Manson, Dylan McDermott, Dermot Mulroney, Diana Scarwid, Chloë Sevigny, John Stamos, Wilmer Valderrama, Wilson Cruz
Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato
Strand Releasing
Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato
Drama, musical

We gave it a B

Party Monster features the astoundingly odd spectacle of two noted Hollywood actors, Macaulay Culkin and Seth Green, bitching and mincing and posing and swishing as they impersonate infamous New York club kids of the late ’80s and early ’90s whose identities were, in themselves, creations of flamboyant artifice. Every night, Michael Alig (Culkin) and James St. James (Green) don otherworldly costumes as if they were drag queens headed for the prom on Neptune. They’re the bastard stepchildren of Dr. Frank-N-Furter and the Wicked Witch of the West, and their fun goes beyond gender-bending. It’s tinged with a sullen desire to scare the entire boring, straight world.

As Alig, who hosted his own freak-out dress-up parties at the drug-fueled disco Limelight, only to descend into addiction and murder (he was convicted in 1996 of killing his dealer, Angel Melendez), Culkin, floppy hair shaved in the back, speaks in a merry sarcastic singsong, stretching his lips into a mocking candy smile just this side of clownish. He plays Alig as a self-adoring cherub of facetious indifference. St. James is Alig’s mentor, who gets high on Special K and stands around taunting people, like Paul Lynde with a stuffed-up nose. Culkin and Green seem a shade too soft for their roles, yet this may be the rare case of a movie in which amateur theatricality works (sort of). The characters in ”Party Monster” experience pleasure and pain as fundamentally synthetic, and the two stars, in a fearless act of stunt casting, embrace the high fakery of wicked plastic hearts.

”Party Monster,” written and directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, who based it, in part, on their 1998 documentary, is as stagy and awkward as some of the Warhol/Morrissey films of the early ’70s. The movie makes it didactically clear that the club kids, fixated on the emptiness of fame, used ”fabulousness” to cover an inner void. Yet if the gay glam underworld now looks like a trivial bubble of decadence, its poison-pill exhibitionism, as captured by Bailey and Barbato, is as colorfully malevolent as the razory extremes of punk. As the film veers into the tabloid sensationalism of the Melendez murder, you may, like me, find yourself appalled yet gripped, eager to see how camp viciousness could slip from creativity to outrage to impromptu evil.

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