Thursday, July 31, 2014

Movie Review: Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge
Directed by: Declan Lowney.
Written by: Peter Baynham & Steve Coogan & Neil Gibbons & Rob Gibbons & Armando Iannuccii based on characters created by Baynhan, Coogan, Iannucci and Patrick Marber.  
Starring: Steve Coogan (Alan Partridge), Colm Meaney (Pat Farrell), Tim Key (Side Kick Simon), Karl Theobald (Greg Frampton), Nigel Lindsay (Jason Tresswell), Felicity Montagu (Lynn Benfield), Dustin Demri-Burns (Danny Sinclair), Simon Greenall (Michael), Phil Cornwell (Dave Clifton), Monica Dolan (Angela Ashbourne), Kieran Hodgson (Exec), Elizabeth Berrington (Bettie).

I’ve known that Steve Coogan has played a character named Alan Partridge ever since I first became aware of Steve Coogan – when he delivered his excellent performance in Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People back in 2002. Every American review didn’t seem to know who he was, and every British review mentioned the ever popular Alan Partridge. According to Wikipedia, Coogan has appeared as Partridge 33 times including radio shows, TV series, shorts, specials, charity appearances and pretty much everything a fictional character can appear in. The Alan Partridge phenomenon never really crossed the Atlantic however, and my knowledge of Partridge was limited to knowing the name, that Coogan played it, and that the character isn’t all that far away from Coogan`s own comic persona – that of the egomaniacal star who thinks more of himself than anyone else does. Like the big screen version of Veronica Mars, the theory behind the movie is to simply make a long version of what was on TV. I`m sure there are inside jokes to Partridge diehards in the movie that flew over my head, but I can say that the movie works on its own terms as well – for a Partridge virgin like myself, I found it easy to keep up with this movie.

Partridge, a one time TV personality, now finds himself in a mid-morning spot on a lowly, regional radio station – doing the type of radio shtick that seems to be the same no matter where you go. It may not be where he wants to be, but he seems happy enough doing it. That is until a corporate giant buys the radio station, and Partridge finds out that one of their first orders of business will be to fire one of two veteran hosts – himself or Pat Farrell (Colm Meany). Partridge has no problem selling out his friend to keep his job. But when Farrell returns to the radio station with a gun and takes over, putting himself back on air, Partridge finds himself being used by the police as the go between with Farrell – who doesn’t know about his betrayal. The whole thing becomes a media sensation – and Partridge thinks it is his ticket back to the big time.

In some ways, the movie plays like a funnier, less depressing version of Martin Scorsese`s The King of Comedy – with Rupert Pupkin's delusion being equally spread between Farrell and Partridge. But Coogan and his cohorts aren’t really interested in exploring the themes of fame and its toxic effects the same way Scorsese was. Instead, it’s basically a series of comic set pieces strung together. Luckily, those set pieces are usually funny – and the film is full of great one liners from beginning to end. Partridge isn’t precisely the normal Coogan character – for one thing, he has a different voice and mannerisms – but it’s not that far away either. Since he’s been playing the character since 1991, it fits him like a glove, and he can cruise through it without trying if he pleases. Luckily, he doesn’t. He surrounds himself with a good supporting cast, and no matter how ridiculous the plot gets, it’s still amusing.

In England, the film was a hit – both critically and commercially. In America, it’s been mainly greeted with a shrug. Alan Partridge isn’t a beloved character in North America – and probably never will be. But the film is entertaining, enjoyable and hilarious throughout just the same.

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