Film Reviews

Homo Alone

Having already produced a book (Disco Bloodbath) and directed a "shockumentary" (Party Monster) about the "Club Kids" scene that rose brightly and fell murderously in New York in the late '80s/early '90s, filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) would seem to have said their piece on the subject. Yet in a curious way, their latest extravaganza -- also called Party Monster -- shows that there's a lot more to this sordid story than first meets the jaundiced eye. A cautionary tale of heedless drug-fueled solipsism, it serves to demonstrate that when it comes to the self-dramatizing subjects, the line between reality and fantasy is less than tenuous. Therefore, dramatized fiction is the ideal form for "documentary" truth in a work whose handmade DV look belies its ruthless dramatic organization.

Michael Alig longed for the larger than life. He was a "nobody" from "nowhere" (the Midwest) who had arrived in New York with no discernible skills but no end of animal cunning. Hooking up with another self-styled scenemaker named James St. James (author of Disco Bloodbath), Alig made a minor name for himself as a party promoter at the "Limelight" -- a low-rent disco hoping to capture some of the ersatz glitz that made "Studio 54" a name to conjure (however undeservedly) whenever the cutting edge of hip gay scenes of yore is mentioned. When the Club Kids arrived, the era of Andy, Liza and Halston had passed. AIDS was raging, and so was the popularity of a new school of designer drugs that kept the kids speeding through the night -- self-destructing as they went.

There's little in the way of glamour here, or camaraderie, but much in the way of sub-Warhol squalor, especially as the Club Kids' sole claim to fame was their overweening desire for it. In Alig's case, he was more than happy to settle for infamy instead -- killing his drug dealer, cutting up the body and tossing it into the Hudson River. Consequently, it makes perfect poetic sense for this deadly wanna-be to be played by Macaulay Culkin, a former child star whose friendship with Michael Jackson is as weird as any Club Kid hallucination. The cute kid of Home Alone is now a very distant memory: Culkin (who hasn't been on screen since Richie Rich back in 1994) captures the amphibious creepiness of Alig in much the same way Craig Chester nailed Nathan Leopold in Swoon. His efforts are well complemented by Wilmer Valderrama (Fez on That '70s Show) as his erstwhile lover Keoki, Chloë Sevigny (amusingly distracted as ever) as his fag-hag amour Gitsie, and Wilson Cruz as the doomed dealer Angel. But the film belongs to Seth Green in the role of James St. James.

From the very first moments in which he's seen arguing with the leading man over whose story Party Monster really is, Green inhabits his role with an effortless thoroughness. Whether he's chattering about how to make an entrance at a party, or sitting in a doughnut shop scribbling down what he claims will be the literary masterpiece that will ensure his immortality, one can't take one's eyes off him. This isn't to say that Culkin doesn't have his "big scene" -- chattering away in drug-encrusted frenzy to his former lover Keoki as if their relationship were still ongoing. But it's topped by Green in the scene were Culkin confesses the murder. The dawning awareness that his friend and social rival isn't joking, coupled with the fact that the drugs he's just imbibed are about to hit, is uncanny. It's difficult to recall an acting moment even remotely like it, and it's more than reason enough go to see this unashamedly giddy, deliciously rancid travelogue through a nominally gay scene where drugs have replaced sex, and narcissism is indistinguishable from self-loathing. You wouldn't ever want to go there in real life. But then that's what movies are for, aren't they?

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
David Ehrenstein