Back when I initially saw Alan Partridge at the New York Film Festival, it was a real breath of fresh air. After the intense but rewarding experience that was Captain Phillips, which premiered as the Opening Night NYFF title, the second screening of that particular day was the much lower key Alan Partridge (or as it was known in the UK during its run there…Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa), the film adaptation of Steve Coogan‘s rather popular character. I was unfamiliar with the title character until that screening, and don’t know too much more about him now, but that’s hardly a big deal considering how appealing Coogan makes it to watch this fool in action. Director Declan Lowney gives star/co-writer Coogan ample room to play and it makes for an enjoyable 90 or so minutes of comedy. In some ways the Partridge character reminded me of an English Ron Burgandy, but that’s a broad strokes comparison to say the least. The film itself isn’t trying to be anything magnanimous or a modern comedy classic, it just wants to tickle your funny bone. I can safely say that it did a very solid job of this. It’s one of the funnier movies of 2014 so far, and has some moments where it’s downright laugh out loud good. Alan Partridge could easily develop a cult following here in the states now, as Coogan easily makes this well worth your while.
The story centers around very mildly famous radio DJ Alan Partridge (Coogan). Partridge is an absolute buffoon, to say the least. He works at a local small time radio station in Norfolk and delights in being “Alan Partridge”. He literally goes as far as to have his car essentially be a walking billboard. He co-hosts a show called “Mid-Morning Matters” with Sidekick Simon (Tim Key) that has a dedicated following. All seems well until the station comes under new management, led by Jason (Nigel Lindsay). Alan initially goes to him to fight for his friend Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney), but when he realizes it could be him or Pat, he throws the sad man under the bus. This causes Pat to snap and it isn’t long until a hostage situation has broken out. For some reason, the police opt to have Alan try and talk some sense into Pat, but that just gives Alan a swell head and causes him to think about how this all could benefit him. The film is light on plot, but it’s heavy on quick jokes and well timed situational humor, so it’s not really a big deal at all. You’ll likely be laughing too much to notice anyway.
This probably won’t surprise you, but performance wise, it’s really all about Steve Coogan here. He’s totally invested in this character and it 100% shows up in his acting. I’ve always enjoyed Coogan as an actor, but he’s doing some of his best work here, showing us a very different side than he did in Philomena. He’s an absolute riot to watch and the way he delivers his lines is just perfect. No one else really gets too much to do, but considering what Coogan’s up to, you kind of want it that way. Colm Meaney is solid as the sad sad Pat, but he’s in and out of the film, while Tim Key is a quintessential sidekick type of character. Among the other supporting parts worth noting, we have the aforementioned Nigel Lindsay, along with Felicity Montagu as Alan’s dedicated assistant. They all mostly just play off of Coogan, and damn if that doesn’t work much more often than not.
I found the direction by Declan Lowney to be purposely simple, but in a way which lets us enjoy the writing and Coogan’s work all the more. Besides Coogan at the keys, the script is also credited to Peter Baynham, Neil Gibbons, Rob Gibbons, Armando Iannucci, and Patrick Marber. I especially noticed a bit of the Iannucci influence, and I mean that distinctly as a compliment. It’s a great team crafting the screenplay. If the story itself is a little silly and nonsensical, the jokes almost all hit and provide for a very good time. Scenes like the one where Alan explains which religious groups you can gently make fun of on the radio come and go super quick, but they land with a bang and are distinctly memorable. The plot is forgettable, but the jokes are still with me. Between this and Philomena, we sure know that Coogan can write.
Overall, if you don’t set yourself up for disappointment by expecting the next great mainstream comedy, Alan Partridge should manage to satisfy you very thoroughly. Coogan is firing on all cylinders (with an Oscar nomination to boot) and the New York Film Festival got itself more or less a laugh riot to open up the first day of the 51st edition of the fest with back at its debut screening. I didn’t know about this character until seeing the movie, but now I sure want to know more and I think you’ll be following my lead once you see this too.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!