Actor Steve Coogan’s fictional character Alan Partridge has been making Britons (and some of us across the pond, as well) laugh for over 20 years. There’s no real way to describe him other than self-aggrandizing, yet self-deprecating; humble, yet utterly boisterous; subtle, yet ostentatious. He’s a very contradictory man, and there’s no better way to experience him than in his new film, appropriately titled Alan Partridge (also titled Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa in territories other than the US).
This hysterically funny film follows radio personality Partridge as his station, North Norfolk Digital, flips from an independent talk-oriented radio station to being soulless and corporate-owned. In true Partridge fashion, he wriggles and squirms his way into staying employed, turning from raging against the corporate machine to instantly feeding his fellow broadcaster Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) to the wolves once he finds out it’s either him or Pat. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before longtime station employee Farrell, bent mentally from the loss of his wife and his job, attempts to get some revenge.
Taking the station’s employees – executives and fellow “d-jocks” alike – hostage with a double-barreled shotgun, Farrell forces Partridge to speak on his behalf. But once the media attention starts, the public’s focus shifts from Farrell to Partridge, who’s enjoying every last second of being on TV. I mean, hell, we all know it’s Partridge’s movie to begin with – his name’s the title of the movie! Coogan flexes his comedic muscle, making Partridge into a maniacal whirling dervish as he flits between being Farrell’s mouthpiece, to doing impromptu ad jingles for Farrell, to being Farrell’s sidekick on his radio show (with Partridge’s actual sidekick sitting off to the side with the gun to his head).
If you’re thinking this movie’s anything like 1994’s Airheads, where Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, and Adam Sandler ran around like idiots, trying to pass off water guns as the real thing after taking a format-flipping radio station hostage, think again. Alan Partridge is a more cunningly-crafted showcase for Coogan’s deadpan snark and wit. With a wink and a condescending (or not) head-tilt, Coogan plays Partridge as that guy who wants everyone to feel at ease, saying anything he can (an equal amount of truth and lies) to achieve his desired ends, no matter how selfless or selfish he may be.
Having been a Partridge fan for years, I loved this movie. There’s something refreshing about a comedy that doesn’t rely on awkwardness or too many sight gags to make you laugh. Instead, it relies on punchy humor, interesting characters, and Coogan’s surefire delivery to earn every one of your guffaws. This is the kind of movie that, I think, Peter Sellers would have done in his heyday; Alan Partridge honestly reminds me a little of Sellers’ The Party, as he goes from humorous situation to humorous situation with the most grandiose attempts at saving face and maintaining grace. Sometimes, he succeeds; sometimes, he doesn’t. Either way, both the film and its namesake character exude such charm that you’ll almost forget the film’s plot, ‘cause you’re more interested in seeing what Partridge is going to throw our way next.
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