“Alan Partridge” (2013)
by A.J. Hakari
The “shock and awe” approach to comedy requires a surer hand to guide it than it’s oftentimes awarded. If you’ve seen Borat or Bruno, you know the style of humor I’m talking about, the kind that engulfs viewers in awkward situations and forces them to confront some uncomfortable topics. Sacha Baron Cohen scored victories with those aforementioned movies by having satirical ulterior motives in mind (lampooning American culture, exposing the vapidity of the fame-hungry, etc.), but 2013’s Alan Partridge shows faint promise at best of turning out in a similar manner. Based on a popular British radio/television character, the flick certainly isn’t short on off-color jokes that grab your attention, yet it’s at a loss on what to do when all eyes finally are on it. That’s not to say that Alan Partridge has no valid commentary whatsoever, merely that it could’ve used some of the time spent constantly harping on the protagonist’s buffoonery to let its smart side get in a few words.
24 Hour Party People‘s Steve Coogan plays Alan Partridge, a small-town disc jockey and all-around terrible human being. When he’s not belittling his long-suffering secretary (Felicity Montagu), he’s usually rattling off an insensitive remark of some kind and trampling over others in a never-ending struggle to look out for number one. As our story begins, a media conglomerate has bought Alan’s station and begun the process of cleaning house as they transition to a more generic format. With his job on the line, Alan is more than happy to throw his colleague Pat (Colm Meaney) under the bus and have him sacked, his eyes set on the coveted breakfast show time slot. Everything is smooth sailing, until a disgruntled Pat returns with a shotgun and holds the station hostage, declaring that he’ll only speak to the police through Alan. Will our “hero” stop being a selfish jackass long enough to save the day, or will the added attention inflate his ego and cause even more trouble?
Alan Partridge‘s pedigree suggests a product far superior to the one we’re ultimately delivered. Coogan has worked tirelessly in comedy for years (as well as recently nabbing an Oscar nomination for scripting Philomena), In the Loop‘s Armando Iannucci co-wrote the screenplay after helping conceive the character in the ’90s, and director Declan Lowney helmed several episodes of some hit UK shows. With talent like that behind the scenes and in front of the camera, it’s disappointing to see Alan Partridge turn out as pale as it does. I haven’t been privy to any other media that featured the figure, but the general atmosphere here doesn’t feel too far off from other TV-to-movie adaptations that didn’t have a whole lot of effort put into them. Old characters return, in-jokes are shared, and maybe a few more words than what’s usually allowed on the small screen are uttered. There’s a good deal of potential with a character who has no filter and clings onto whatever celebrity comes from being a small-town radio host with teeth-gnashing fervor, but nothing all that dynamic is done with the concept. The movie settles for pointing out over and over what an oblivious jerk Alan is, and even with the presence of a homogenous corporate machine in the proceedings, the most daring observation made is that, like, big media is bad, you guys.
In all fairness, even shock humor can get results, and as intently-focused on eliciting easy, knee-jerk reactions as it is, Alan Partridge does have a few laughs. Coogan turns what could’ve become a truly insufferable character into an entertaining blowhard, spending virtually all of the film’s 90 minutes putting his foot in his mouth and proving how woefully unsuited he is for human interaction. He’s especially quick to use the hostage crisis to his advantage, even turning what’s supposed to be a police negotiation in one scene into a literal stand-up routine. Coogan does well at bringing out Alan’s facepalm-inducing qualities without casting him as so unsavory, you want to hit the mute button whenever he opens his mouth. Still, there isn’t much variety to the proceedings, just the same process of Alan saying something tasteless, others acting offended, then moving on to the next comment. While they get little to do outside of reacting to the titular twit’s antics, the supporting cast does what it can to shake things up. Meaney plays it straight as the unhinged Pat, Montagu is actually very sweet as Alan’s put-upon assistant, and Tim Key has some amusing scenes as Alan’s radio sidekick, who has a groaner of a joke for seemingly every occasion.
I’m not sure how much justice Alan Partridge does to the character folks love to revile, but if the consensus is sub-par, I wouldn’t be surprised. Aside from some funny bits here and there, the humor is repetitive to a fault, the story is unexciting, and the satire fails to rise to the occasion countless times when it easily could’ve nailed it. For those who’ve preached the superiority of British comedy over America’s stuff throughout the years, allow me to present Alan Partridge as evidence that they can be just as middle-of-the-road as us.