Alan Partridge: Alpa Papa (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Alan Partridge: Alpa Papa (2014)

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One of Britain's most iconic stars, the egomaniacal multimedia star Alan Partridge, tries to splash across the pond in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa.  The titular Partridge finds himself  manipulating a media circus to his advantage when his former coworker Pat starts taking hostages after being fired.

The legend come to canvasIt's a shame that Alan Partridge isn't better known here in the States.  He's been a fixture of British media barely longer than I've been alive, and yet his legendary ego and oblivious takes on pop culture are little more than an inside joke between many of my friends.  Now he's crashed on the American shores with a film that has been a constantly evolving rumor for the last ten years.  Is it likely to give Steve Coogan a bright comedic star over America?  Not yet, but this film is sure to give my domestic acquaintances a ton of surprise laughs if they happen to pull this up on a random night.

The American release of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa sheds half the title and sits simply as Alan Partridge.  Considering the wave of superhero origin films that are made, remade, and then eventually distributed overseas this is a fitting change as well as a great introduction to the comedic creation of performer Coogan and Armando Iannucci, he of the sharp satirical pen that has given us The Thick of It and Veep.  For all the talk of how the Millennial generation is obsessed with themselves Alan Partridge is a peon to a simpler time in media stardom when the mere act of being on television or radio was supposed to confer a sense of awe and respect.  No one deserves those qualities automatically, but no one bothered to tell Alan that.

Alan's flimsy empathy, ready to drop at a moment's notice, leads to scenes of pathetic, yet hilarious, grandstanding.

Alan's flimsy empathy, ready to drop at a moment's notice, leads to scenes of pathetic, yet hilarious, grandstanding.

Alan Partridge works both as an introduction to the man as befitting the title, and a loving ode to those of us who have been introduced to him over the years.  Alan is a brilliant creation, a walking id of media flattery who knows just enough about every bit of pop culture to make sure that everyone who knows a bit more recognizes the foolishness in his statements.  Recognizing that he knows little involves a bit of work though, and getting over his unintentional insults barely masked as flattery is difficult.  After all, even the man with a heart of gold would have a hard time finding something to defend in Alan's attempt at a compliment, "You can keep Jesus Christ. That was Neil Diamond, truly the King of the Jews."

That line, and the dozens more, come from a screenplay that is both deeply cynical but nonetheless sympathetic to a man of Alan's particular blinders.  A whopping five writers contributed to the screenplay and that's usually a sign of bloat or misdirection, but ten minutes into the film it becomes clear that the writing is the films best feature and one of the tightest scripts this year.  I was barely able to keep up with the jokes that without proper rewatches it would be difficult to catalog them all, but one line sums up the mix of cynicism and sympathy best when Alan is asked for his last words and he responds, "Well, they'd be to my kids but they don't talk to me anymore...wait, to my kids, 'Why don't you talk to me anymore?' "

Alan, as played by Coogan, is a marvel to listen to and watch as he rattles off those lines.  The beauty of Coogan's performance is that he always seems just on the cusp of figuring out why people find him distasteful and then rams it all back with a heap of selfishness.  Even in the moments of physical comedy, which are the film's weakest sections, Coogan never gives in to the energy around him and always creates his own space of self-defensive calm.  When he slowly uses his paramour as a human shield we see how she could both be reassured by his calm, and how quickly it would turn around if she saw him slowly duck behind her.

Bless the fine taste of whoever wrangled Colm Meaney into this.

Bless the fine taste of whoever wrangled Colm Meaney into this.

As wonderful as Coogan's performance is, the cinema deities have blessed this film with the good taste to cast Colm Meaney as the edgy coworker who takes him hostage.  Meany has been another longtime favorite of mine, whose performances showcase a man capable of brutal energy that can switch into giddy delight in a second.  His performance as Pat is a perfect foil for Coogan, matching Alan's attempts at sophistication with sweet confusion and Alan's total cowardice with flashes of anger.  I only hope that the sequel has the bad sense to find some way to bring Pat, and Meaney, back - if only for a bit more of Meaney threading the line between love and homicide.

The direction, by Declan Lowney, does exactly what it needs to do - keep the camera focused on Alan whenever possible  - while still staging some impressive blocking for the subtle bits of Coogan's physical comedy.  Fans of Iannucci will be glad to know that there's just enough political satire to make fans of Billy Wilder offer a knowing smile.  But, as he would love to hear it, the show is Alan's to ruin and Coogan never steps wrong.  Which is, to say, he never steps right.  Any man who prefers Wings over The Beatles should know enough to know better - lucky for us Alan doesn't.

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Tail - Alan PartridgeAlan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2014)

Directed by Declan Lowney.
Screenplay written by Neil Gibbons, Rob Gibbons, Steve Coogan, Armando Iannucci, and Peter Baynham.
Starring Steve Coogan and Colm Meaney.

Posted by Andrew

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