Director Michael Winterbottom comes up aces with 24 Hour Party People, a millennium-style musical about the life and career of Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan), one of the seminal figures of New Wave music. While toiling as a television host, he found time in the '80s to found Factory Records, which represented such influential artists as Joy Division, A Certain Ratio, New Order and Happy Mondays. He also ran a club, the Hacienda, which, along with the music, turned his city of Manchester into the most happening spot on the planet.

The film is a wild ride through the numberless excesses of the era, and Winterbottom and his crew are more than up to the challenge. It's a frantically paced, kaleidoscopic biopic he fashions, laced with brilliantly funny non-sequiturs and cameo appearances, and suffused with a pure love of the setting and real music which did indeed exist before all the corporations took over. He captures both the insane creativity of the era, as well as its impossible idealism, with Factory Records' high-minded policy of no written contracts and artistic trust. Robby Müller's cinematography is one of his most fabulously inventive efforts, never more so than when he and Winterbottom hysterically restage an infamous episode, involving rat poison and a flock of doomed pigeons. Another hairy sequence, involving Happy Mondays and some spilt methadone in a Barbados airport, says in a flash all you need to know about this rock life.

In Coogan, Winterbottom has found the perfect, gabby conduit, as this comedian turns in a dazzling performance that combines the driest of wit, elegant raffishness in Yoji suits and deliciously offhand profanity. In a striking scene early on, Cambridge-educated, semiotics-obsessed Wilson is discovered receiving oral sex from a hooker by his wife (the daintily aristocratic Shirley Henderson). "I love you!" he feebly cries, as she stalks off into the night; later, when he finds her being serviced by the Buzzcocks' Howard Devoto, he mutters, "I only had a blow job, that's full penetration." (The real Devoto, playing a washroom attendant, then has his own funny, short say on the episode.) The entire cast performs with bitingly true incisiveness, and the suicide of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis (Sean Harris) is handled with a uniquely piercing, but wholly dry-eyed, poignancy. Suffice it to say that the entire enterprise completely took this viewer back to a long-ago night when I saw Joy Division perform at Max's Kansas City and somehow ended up on the Mudd Club dance floor with the most beautiful girl in the world, model Rene Russo.

-David Noh