Comedy Film Review 2015: "Alan Partridge" (Starring Steve Coogan, Written by Peter Baynham, Directed by Declan Lowney)
Steve Coogan, the ever so affable and rather hapless British actor and comedian seems to be taking his cues from John Cleese's "Faulty Towers", Rowan Atkinson's "Mr. Bean" & "Blackadder" and touches of Simon Pegg's surreal and experimental apartment/flat-set comedy "Spaced". These influences - which Coogan never tastelessly emulates and literally wears on his sleeve, really makes him (and his alter-ego character Alan Partridge) a true breath of fresh air and has sought to usher in a distinctly more balls-to-the-wall type of comedy that probably won't sit well with most audiences, particularly non-Brits, but has the potential to keep changing things up. Coogan's work has not gone unnoticed as it has led to an Academy Award nomination in the drama "Philomena" co-starring the amazing Dame Judi Dench as well as making him the last-minute starring replacement for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in the show "Happyish". Coogan has certainly perfected the role of a neurotic, unhinged but well-meaning goofball who more often than not finds himself in bizarre and sticky situations that he somehow manages to find himself a way out of. He also has a deft ear for dialogue and rapid-fire delivery and is usually blessed to be paired with exceptionally crafted scripts (many of which he wrote or co-wrote himself) that tap into the actor/comedian's greatest talents. These include some slapstick, Edgar Wright-style eye-popping and visually stunning action, and tongue-twisting banter that is always ferocious but never really mean-spirited like so many American comedies are. This is that kind of film, and thank goodness for it.
To say that Coogan transmits and inhabits neuroses better than Woody Allen couldn't be more true especially late-period Woody in which he seems to be rehashing the same themes from his more formative work. But, there is a clear distinction - Coogan substitutes the Woodman's eloquent, existential and philosophical dialogue with darkly comic, often times lewd and subversive material that might make peak form Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock hot and bothered. It is a talent that he has engineered over the course of a sustained career and his alter-ego Alan Partridge, a well-meaning and unbelievably ballsy radio DJ/talk show host, is the lens to which we see Coogan most often. He has deviated from this character recently especially with the two projects I mentioned earlier - "Happyish" and "Philomena" which are unrelated to the Partridge-verse. Still, there are glimpses and idiosyncrasies from Partridge that still find themselves seeping into these other parts since the method to which Coogan embodies Partridge is completely method a'la Daniel Day Lewis and Heath Ledger before and after him.
In terms of the content, it gets very unwieldy very fast. Because of the nature of the quick-paced delivery, a bevy of accents - Scottish, Irish and English, mostly, and the intricate amount of name-dropping and references that would be unfamiliar to most non-Europeans, some of the jokes would definitely be missed and would go over heads. It is recommended that even though the film is in English, it is advisable to turn on subtitles to view it in order to increase your chances of catching the majority of the zingers and one-liners. Also, many times there are 4 or 5 characters talking back and forth at breakneck speed with a lot of cross-talk and overlapping and it could prove hard to follow for the average viewer who isn't familiar with a film like this. I did not have a problem so it didn't detract from my enjoyment or viewing experience. As a character piece it is incredibly redeeming and acts as more of an ensemble film in line with the films of director Christopher Guest such as "Spinal Tap" and "Waiting For Guffman" as opposed to a two-man star vehicle between Coogan and Meaney. Coogan and Meaney together have an entrancing chemistry and when not saying side-splitting lines there are a great many heart-warming moments that dig deep at their psychologies. That alone is worth the price of admission.
So, should you see this movie? Well, that all depends if you want to step way outside your comfort zone especially if you are too used to viewing one kind of programming, especially on the BBC like "Doctor Who" or "Orphan Black". This is a different kind of animal more in line with Ricky Gervais's "Extras" that really aim to push the envelope. "Alan Partridge" contains plenty of jaw-dropping moments that you'll blink and look away and come back and you wouldn't believe that you'd just witnessed or heard. Oh, and did I mention that there is also a hefty amount of action? It isn't merely characters slinging one-liners. There is a rather intricate hostage/police procedural plot that spins that genre so far out of its own orbit that it demands to be acknowledged.
If you dug this film check out Coogan's other "Alan Partridge" content that include several TV movies and shorts that he put out over the course of the last 10 years. He also proves himself an able dramatic actor with his turns in the aforementioned "Philomena" and "The Trip To Italy".