Film Review: Alan Partridge

The Alan Partridge Movie

After almost 20 years on TV and radio and countless BBC specials, Alan Partridge finally gets his shot at the big screen.

In the thoroughly enjoyable Alan Partridge, Steve Coogan’s insufferable talk show host character is back behind the mic — now running a radio show enjoyed by Norfolk, U.K.’s lowest common denominator.

Coogan is truly a master at capturing the shallowness of the “talent” that feeds information to us, and his character Partridge is a connoisseur of inane banter. With a straight face, Partridge prompts listeners to chime in about the pressing issues of the day: “An unprovoked chemical attack from…China has left us without a sense of smell. In a whiff-free world, what smell would you miss the most?” The first caller answers “petrol,” which, Partridge notes, Americans incorrectly call “gas.”

Everything seems to be going swimmingly — until the station’s new corporate overlords make an appearance. Then, the paranoia sets in. Partridge, with his loyal, gas-huffing fans, holds himself in such esteem that he can’t imagine a situation where he’d be fired. Fellow DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney), on the other hand, isn’t so confident about his fate. When Farrell takes Partridge up on an insincere offer of help, Partridge ends up throwing Farrell under the bus in the most cowardly of ways. Farrell is canned without ceremony and a hostage crisis ensues.

Alan Partridge is great fun, despite the dark setup (the movie was originally going to be about an al-Qaeda siege, but got revised after the July 2005 London bombings). On the surface, the subject matter isn’t totally original (see the 20-year-old(!) comedy Airheads). And with his bad teeth and awkward posturing, Partridge sometimes feels a bit like Austin Powers. But the behind-the-times plot is almost appropriate because Partridge is such a relic. Coogan is also a much better actor than Mike Myers, and Partridge is leagues funnier than Powers.

As Partridge, Coogan does an excellent job portraying a small-time celebrity with an unjustifiably inflated ego. Even though Partridge is unfathomably shallow, Coogan plays him with depth and affection. This makes it possible to root for Partridge while also taking pleasure in his humiliations. It’s also a joy to watch Coogan portray a character that he’s been developing for over two decades.

One thing that makes Partridge better than your average buffoon is his ability to deliver perfectly timed one-liners. But to keep Partridge from getting too clever, Coogan always makes sure the joke is on him. While the jokes range from laugh-out-loud to groaners, few fall flat. It’s cringeworthy when Partridge tears down his loyal assistant Lynn (Felicity Montagu), but this is a long-established facet of their relationship. If Partridge didn’t destroy Lynn at least once per appearance, it would raise questions.

The film itself is well paced and well made. Directed with skill by Declan Lowney and written by Coogan and longtime collaborators Armando Iannucci and Peter Baynham, it’s easy to stay engaged and amused. The Partridge character also translates well to the big screen, and a sequel is reportedly in development.

Coogan has made small appearances in a number of high-profile comedies, including The Other Guys, Hot Fuzz, and Tropic Thunder. And 2013’s Oscar-nominated drama Philomena has only raised his stature. But Coogan has never been able to truly showcase his comedy chops to U.S. audiences. This makes Alan Partridge a welcome offering.

In this day and age, funny comedies are rare, so don’t miss a chance to see Alan Partridge.

Alan Partridge opens at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas on April 11.

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