Alan Partridge is an English radio/TV character created and played by Steve Coogan in the same way that Borat Sagdiyev was created by Sacha Baron Cohen. In this case, though, rather than a Kazah journalist with a peasant’s worldview, Partridge is an English talk radio host with a late 80’s ego and ambition. The original character appeared on a BBC 4 radio series (On the Hour), then moved on to television (Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge, I’m Alan Partridge, and Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge), and at last goes global with film in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (directed Declan Lowney). All in all, Partridge has been a part of English consciousness for 21 years.
Alan Partridge : Alpha Papa focuses on a situation that will be familiar to many: corporate change. Radio Norfolk, the station where Partridge hosts Mid Morning Matters with his sidekick Simon (Tim Key) is taken over by number-and-stats-driven Shape, threatening the status quo. Long-time favorite with old timers, host Pat Farrell (Colm Meany) gets the axe. Farrell goes postal, takes the station hostage at rifle point and refuses to speak to the outside world except through Partridge. Partridge enters the building with his Kevlar on, and though he repeatedly envisions himself saving the day, he instead tries to turn the situation to benefit his career.
All in all, the film is very entertaining, mainly because of Partridge’s character than plot. Partridge is egocentric, narcissistic, status seeking, shallow, and materialistic. Have you got all that?
On air, he’s smooth and quick, never at a loss for the right thing to say. When a caller tells Partridge on air that his favorite smell is his wife’s nightie, Partridge responds with “You kinky git.” When the caller reveals his wife is dead, Partridge takes a serious pause and adds, “Smell’s matter.”
But for all his self-aggrandizement, he’s actually awkward and much of the humour is the contrast between Partridge’s non-stop, ever quick n’ witty, on-air commentary with his less graceful encounters with others outside the booth. There’s something very Seinfeld-esque about the situations. When he tries to avoid talking to Farrell by faking a phonecall on his mobile, the phone rings mid-call and Partridge has to fast-tongue his way out of the box in which he’s put himself.
Yet, at the same time, there’s something very real about this fictional character and how he embraces the many sides of himself unapologetically or simply unaware of how he’s a few steps outside of the present. While trying to seduce a co-worker, he apologizes that his nose starts to whistle when under stress. He belts out 80’s adult-rock tunes in his KIA that has been emblazoned with the phrase “Alan Partridge Drives This KIA” on the side. He is slightly stuck in the late 80s, early 90s. His hair is Miami Vice cool and he dons one of those two-tone leather bomber jackets.
As far as a comedy film goes, it’s madcap, zany stuff. Nothing that happens is pushing-the-envelope surprising. In one scene, the hostages have to write a jingle to please Farrell after his original station call is erased from the files. Partridge loses his trousers and gets caught in the buff by paparazzi. Even though these are fairly standard comedy scenes, the characters transform them. While writing the jingle, one of the characters reveals he was once the drummer in an 80s English prog rock band called Marillion (yes, the band exists). Partridge response to his nudity is to tuck his tackle between his legs and debase himself further. It’s the humour and characters that makes this fresh and wild stuff – not the situations.
All in all, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is an entertaining film. There’s been some fear that it won’t translate to those who haven’t grown up with Partridge, but I disagree. Though some jokes will just soar over North American heads, the character still resonates as a certain type (stuck in the late 80s), facing a recognizable situation (corporate restructuring) while managing a huge ego in an imperfect personality.