If you live in the UK, there’s a good chance you grew up on Alan Partridge. If you live in the US, it’s possible that you’ve never heard of him. Given the fact that this character was created over 20 years ago by one of the funniest men in existence, it really is a shame that he’s not better known here. But stop your heartache, fellow Americans. Our time has come! To bring everyone up to speed, Partridge is a character co-created and played by Steve Coogan, that has been featured on radio, television, and the internet. And now he’s finally made his way to film.
Despite this being a character 20 years in the making, Coogan and director Declan Lowney don’t bother with backstory. And that’s for the best, because Alan Partridge the film is completely able to stand on its own. The set-up is simple and the characters are instantly identifiable. Partridge is the host of a mid-morning talk radio show on the ultra-local, ultra-mediocre station North Norfolk Digital. His show is like a more subdued, more English Crazy Ira and the Douche. When the station is bought out by a gaggingly young, hip company, it’s clear that there isn’t enough room for more than one easy listening/classic rock program with a host over 50, and Alan convinces his new bosses to fire his friend Pat (the incredible Colm Meaney, who will always be Chief O’Brien in my heart). Pat doesn’t react too well to his firing, though, and comes back to turn the station’s office party into a hostage situation.
On Pat’s command, Alan is forced to act as the mediator between Pat and the police, and the power quickly goes to his head. Seeing himself on television, along with the praise and attention coming from hordes of gawkers lined up outside the station, are infinitely more important to Alan than the safety of the hostages or the reality of his situation. And while the Partridge of the movie isn’t as misogynistic or homophobic as the Partridge of the past, he is still just as narcissistic and completely blind to the feelings of everyone around him. In his treatment of his friends, his assistant, and his love interest, he is all-around terrible. It’s simultaneously very very sad and, still, really hilarious.
And this pretty much sums up the magic of Steve Coogan. He’s on that list of actors who can perfectly walk the line between despicable and endearing. Partridge is a car crash of a character, along the lines of both continents’ incarnations of Michael Scott. He’s painful to watch, but that won’t stop you. Alan Partridge as a character is in an odd place, though. With a 20 year history based in shorter spurts of comedy, the character just isn’t made to carry a film for a full two hours. The story meanders a bit, and while it’s amusing throughout, there probably aren’t as many actual big laughs as the film intends. But despite all that, it still has a solid base holding it up. Because even if the character can’t necessarily carry a full movie, Coogan sure as hell can. If there’s anyone who’s worth watching meander for two hours, it’s him. Throw Colm Meaney into the mix, and the whole thing’s a delight. So while Alan Partridge may not be a film for the ages, it is two hours of Steve Coogan, and there are worse ways we could all spend that time.
Alan Partridge is now available on iTunes.