Movie a Day Blog understands that Steve Coogan can be an acquired taste. When I was first exposed to his very British sense of perpetual outrage, I found him a bit insufferable.
But having enjoyed his two road movies, THE TRIP (2010) and THE TRIP TO ITALY (2014, Movie a Day 9/17/14), and admired his serious acting chops in PHILOMENA (2013, Movie a Day 1/9/14), I now look forward to a Steve Coogan movie.
Alan Partridge is a character Coogan created in 1997 for a British TV series that made him a star, and he’s utilized aspects of the Partridge persona in many of his other characterizations, such as his dual portrayal of the title character and the actor playing him in Michael Winterbottom’s TRISTAN SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY (2005), an overlooked comedy that is a refreshing update on TOM JONES (1963).
Coogan embodies a variation on the British flighty curmudgeon that John Cleese seemed to patent in the Monty Python TV shows and movies. He’s vain, pretentious, self-obsessed and never comfortable outside of the spotlight, and any spotlight will do.
In ALAN PARTRIDGE, the first movie featuring the character under his original identity, makes use of all these Coogan specialties without ever acknowledging his checkered show business past (he was a notorious TV host in his original series), at least to the British audiences familiar with the various iterations.
This time Partridge is a DJ at a pathetic little radio station in Norfolk, in the north of England, that gets purchased by a conglomerate, although God knows why anyone would want it. To keep his own job, Partridge sells out colleague Colm Meaney, who doesn’t react well. He takes the station and everyone working at it hostage, at the point of a very real gun.
Considering the grim scenario, the proceedings are kept light and moving quickly by first-time feature director Declan Lowney, a British TV veteran. Partridge becomes the official go-between, shuttling between meetings with Scotland Yard and trying to get Meaney to lighten up, which he has no intention of doing.
Coogan struts all of his Partridge mannerisms as long as the film’s 90-minute running time will sustain. Much longer and we might have wished for Meaney to pull the trigger after all. But the laughs are there consistently, a bit of a surprise given the limited range of self-reflexive emotions that Partridge possesses.
One of six credited writers of the screenplay, Coogan created the versatile character with writer Peter Baynham and producer Armando Ianucci, who also created and writes the excellent HBO series with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep.” His traveling companion in the TRIP movies, Rob Brydon, turns up for an uncredited cameo as a portrait painter.
Partridge’s resiliency in hanging in there so long and evolving with the times, while simultaneously staying exactly the same, is validated by ALAN PARTRIDGE. It’s not the familiar big laugh Will Ferrell or Judd Apatow American comedies that we’re used to, but Coogan and Partridge know when less is more.
Of course, to Alan Partridge, more is always more.