VOD film review: Alan Partridge – Alpha Papa
Ivan | On 02, Dec 2013
Director: Declan Lowney
Cast: Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Nigel Lindsay, Sean Pertwee
“Today, we’re discussing who is the best monger: iron, fish, war or rumour?”
That’s the sound of Alan Partridge (Coogan) on the big screen. Is it bigger? Not really. If anything, it’s smaller. But the film it has the most in common with? The Great Gatsby.
Gatsby was a huge story of a little man who thought massive. He super-sized his dreams into existing – his reach exceeded his grasp. Alan Partridge, on the other hand, is a small man who dreams small – he can barely grasp anything beyond the opening credits of The Spy Who Loved Me.
Where Gatsby wanted to be Great, Alan just wanted a second series. They couldn’t be more different. So why the similarity?
That’s where Armando Ianucci comes in. Partridge’s creator does the clever thing of keeping Alan in his Norfolk pond throughout Alpha Papa. No London here, no Hollywood – not even a mug of beans and a sausage.
Alan, it turns out, has mellowed a lot over the years. He was once outrageously desperate and desperately outrageous. Now, he’s almost content with his lot – specifically, a mid-morning slot on the local radio. It makes for a more nuanced performance from Steve Coogan and a film with fewer laughs than you’d expect.
Assisted by his faithful secretary Lynn (the endearingly deadpan Felicity Montagu), Alan finds himself in the middle of a siege when fellow jockey of the discs Pat Farrell (Meaney) reacts badly to being kicked out – and promptly kicks back into the building with a shotgun. Alan becomes the hero of the hour, out of necessity rather than ability. “Do I look like I suffer from panic attacks?” he sputters at the police officers in charge (including the always hilarious Darren Boyd). “I had one panic attack at the car wash.”
The set-up could have gone full Tropic Thunder, but instead it potters slowly along in its suburban surroundings – a blockbuster perfectly pitched to match Partridge’s personality. There may not be many guffaws, but the giggles don’t let up, thanks to a scene-stealing turn from Tim Key as co-presenter Simon.
It climaxes, crucially, not when Alan has a gun or is having sex, but when his career looks to be back on track; when he becomes a minor celebrity on the local news; when 12 more people are listening to him on the radio. Within the North Norfolk area. At that time of day. Because Alan, at heart, doesn’t want to be James Bond. He wants to be Alan Partridge. Armando and co-writers Coogan, Peter Baynham, Neil Gibbons and Rob Gibbons know that. A film in which Alan became James Bond wouldn’t feel like an Alan Partridge movie. This does.
That also means it’s not a complete success; after the climax, the film keeps going, seemingly not quite sure where it’s going to end, while one nude scene feels tonally out of place. But if the mildly underwhelming romp may suffer from the not-as-funny-as-it-could-have-beens, it’s wonderfully true to its origins. An awkward watch with unexpected bursts of humour, Alan’s uncomfortable yet likeable charm still has the ability to grow on you, while Coogan’s restrained presence as the greying BBC legend gives Partridge a maturity and depth that never used to be there. The result is a strangely perfect fusion of subject and form.
The Great Gatsby is far from such natural success, but Alpha Papa feels similarly driven by its lead’s identity. For better or for worse, Alpha Papa lays claim to that strange accolade: if Alan Partridge directed a movie about himself, this would be it. And you can’t really ask for more than that.