Party Monster (2003): Money, Success, Fame, Glamour…and Many Flaws


Before we get into the movie, there are some things about me prior to seeing this movie:

1.I had already read Disco Bloodbath by James St. James the “memoir” on which it is based.

2. I am and have always been fascinated by Michael Alig and the late eighties club scene

3. I enjoy Macauley Culkin as an adult actor.

Already, I’m the target audience for this movie. However, how many potential audience fit these criteria? Not many. It’s almost like viewers needed to fulfill the above prerequisites before they could even begin to appreciate it. This isn’t a film that explains New York Club kid culture or even celebrates it; it’s a film that takes place within the culture. I’m not arguing that the film should have educated its audience about the brief era in the late eighties when this subculture emerged, but the great hallmarks of the subculture can quickly alienate people who have no experience with it. Alienating an audience is probably something a film maker should avoid. Probably.

Party Monster is a loosely-adapted biopic of notorious club kid, party promoter and later murderer Michael Alig. The late eighties New York City was all about the club The Limelight and copious amounts of drugs. And I so mean loosely-adapted. It’s not a biopic insomuch as we learn about Michael Alig’s life, but it’s a series of scenes strung together in which Michael Alig is a part of.

It doesn’t quite work as a biopic nor as a fully developed story.

Those who have heard of/are interested in Michael Alig as a cultural artifact will take interest; however, if your audience needs to know back story before watching, you’re already in trouble.  films shouldn’t be made just for the fans- you need to cast a wider net. Even the marketing was weird. The dvd version was released with this cover:


Huh? What? It features Macauley and Seth Green (who is rarely out of makeup in the movie) as if it were a jaunty teen romp. Which it is so not. You see Macauley Culkin’s ass. He makes someone drink his urine. He bangs Wilmer Valderama in a dumpster. A guy in a large chicken suit has sex with everyone. Michael Alig kills his drug dealer and chops up the body. Teen romp it is not.  I claim to love this movie, but there is a lot of stuff in this movie that just fails. And fails miserably.

Sure, there is a loose plot: Smalltown closeted gay teen Michael Alig comes to the big city, James St. James teaches him to be fabulous. Alig becomes a celebutante. He is hired by Dylan McDermott to promote parties at the limelight. Dylan McDermott is a corrupt club owner and fires Alig. Alig meets his boyfriend, they break up. Alig gets addicted to drugs and kills his drug dealer. But somehow, the story doesn’t piece together. The story is very choppy and missing key elements.

We see Alig meet Wilmer Valderama, and proclaim “I’m going to make you a Superstar Deejay.” And then he’s a famous deejay. Later, we see Chloe Sevigny and Wilson Cruz watching Alig with awe on talk shows from their boring lives at home, and the next scene they are part of his crew. Sure, it’s fine to skip ahead to the future, but if we are supposed to understand these characters (and we never do), we need to see SOMETHING ABOUT THEIR JOURNEY. None of the characters are actual characters, they are props surrounding Michael Alig.  And speaking of Chloe Sevingny, why is she even in this movie? Share barely has any lines but becomes Alig’s latest fling. It’s like the filmmakers thought that having Chloe Sevigny would give them indie cred.

Yes, I remember claiming to love this film, so I do need to back up my statement. For all the flaws, there is truly some of the most fun, visually stunning and bizarre stuff ever on film. For one, Seth Green goes BALLS OUT playing his character. James St. James is a flamboyant, dramatic and over the top character and Seth Green just fucking commits. It’s nothing like you’ve ever seen him in before. And its pretty damn entertaining

Macauley Culkin may be acting the shit out of this role or he may be doing shitty acting. It is a fine line, and it is hard to tell. He delivers Alig’s lines with a flat, weird inflection that could either be horrible and embarrassing, or creating a persona for Michael Alig, who, lets face it, was not exactly your normal type of guy.

If there is one reason to see this movie, it is that Culkin is unbelievably stunning in the costumes. You wouldn’t think it, but he rocks the makeup, feathers, glitter, headpieces, skin tight spandex, bizarre fetish dress like you would not believe. These outfits make Lady Gaga look tame. Who knew he was so pretty?

Although they don’t fit together as a coherent movie, several of the scenes are cinematic-ally and visually stunning.The soundtrack is used brilliantly. Alig and St, James rocking out to Stacey Q’s “Two of Hearts” is fantastic, as is Alig and friends performing the song “Money, Success, Fame Glamour” are some of my favorite scenes ever committed to cinema. Alig and friends crowd a fast food joint for an impromptu rave, with Alig wearing false eyelashes that I would kill for.

If you appreciate indie cinema and see films more as an art form, you’ll appreciate some of what was attempted. If you like coherent, narrative, relatable storylines, you will run screaming. The directors/writers obviously know what they are doing when it comes to campiness and costumery- they later produced RuPaul’s drag race.

To sum up, I’d call this a low-rent “Baz Luhrmann meets John Waters.” Better yet, get the soundtrack.



Add yours →

  1. July 18, 2013 — 10:45 pm

    I totally agree with you on all points, this movie has some flaws but I LOVE it. Seth Green is freakin’ AMAZING in his role and Macauley Culkin is really awesome too. This movie has holes but it’s overall a damn fine flick.

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