Based on the true story as related in the cult book Disco Bloodbath by James St. James, Party Monster is the story of the meteoric career in "fabulousness" of Michael Alig (Culkin). Raised in South Bend, Ind., by a permissive and ditzy mother (Diana Scarwid), Michael grew up the target of all the town bullies. To make matters worse, he was sexually molested by a pedophile before he reached his teens. Fresh out of high school, he relocated to New York and fell voraciously into the outrageous club scene of the late 1980s and early '90s when Party Monster is set.
The young adult Michael Alig we meet is androgynous and noxiously self-absorbed. He hooks on to club star (and future author) James Clark who goes by the pseudonymous last name St. James (Seth Green) and expeditiously endeavors to eclipse St. James as the club star of the moment. That set-up suggests the possibility of a Shakespearean struggle between ambition and friendship. But Party Monster never succeeds in communicating how one measures success in the contest to become king of the club kids, as both Michael and James aspire to term themselves.
In fact, this film never succeeds in communicating much of anything save for outlandish costuming and a lot of aimless behavior fueled by alcohol, crack cocaine and especially ecstasy. The characters dress in drag or as accident or homicide victims. They dance wildly and talk to each other in affected banalities. Michael makes arbitrary declarations that somehow come true. He's attracted to a boy named Keoki (Wilmer Valderrama) and declares that they shall become lovers and that Keoki shall be a famous club DJ. Both seem to happen, but we haven't a clue what Keoki sees in Michael or how he becomes famous. Later Michael meets a young man named Angel (Wilson Cruz) and promises to turn him into a drug dealer. This happens, but we never witness a scene where Michael introduces Angel to a supplier.
Party Monster becomes increasingly incoherent. Perhaps this is supposed to mirror Michael's increased drug use and escalating instability. But even if so, that doesn't assist us in sorting out what's happening and why. We never understand the relationship between Michael and Peter Gatien (Dylan McDermott), the owner of the nightclub where Michael throws his parties. Nothing is clear about this, critically how money is made and why Gatien is willing to risk a drug bust when he complains all the time that he's not making any money.
Eventually, characters begin to appear out of the ether. The gifted Natasha Lyonne shows up looking awful as someone named Brooke who moves into Michael's crowded apartment. But we've no clue where she comes from or what her connection to Michael is. The same is almost true of a young woman named Gitsie (Chloe Sevigny), although it does seem that she and Michael become lovers -- which is surprising since heretofore we are led to believe that Michael is gay. Maybe one achieves "fabulousness" in this demented world by acting counter to one's instincts, straight people making homosexual connections and vice versa.
In the end, there a vicious murder, a hammer to the brain and an injection of Drano. Sweet. One of the murderers is a character we barely know. The other, we know from the outset, is Michael. But this material is executed with so little emotional purchase that we don't care about the victims or the killers either. Filmmakers Bailey and Barbato are obviously fascinated with Michael's story because they've already told it in a 1998 documentary. But I don't get their fascination. Three years ago in The Eyes of Tammy Faye they managed to make me look at Tammy Faye Bakker in a brand new, surprisingly sympathetic light. But they don't manage to make me even vaguely interested in Michael Alig or any of his pointless shenanigans. Culkin manages to evolve from cuddly to repulsive. But to what end?