Before Ricky Gervais and Larry David cornered the market on cringe-inducing comedy, there was Alan Partridge. Steve Coogan’s obnoxious egomaniac has been making audiences wince for over 20 years, appearing in various radio and TV series. But at long last, Coogan & co. have finally brought Norfolk, England’s finest export to the cinema, with the aptly titled Alan Partridge.
For those unfamiliar with Partridge (and you really should rectify that cultural oversight), he is a self-aggrandizing prat, a pedantic media whore who started out as a sports reporter before graduating to a TV host, but as his tiny star plummeted, has ended up at a Norwich radio station as the mid-morning deejay, spinning some Wings (“the band the Beatles could have been”) and asking callers to weigh in on such heavy topics as who the worst monger is (fish, iron, rumor, or war). As the film opens, his station has just been bought out by a corporate-minded outfit, and the new management is eager to trim the fat. When Partridge finds out it’s either him or another out-of-touch deejay, Pat Farrell (Meaney), he immediately convinces the new owners to get rid of Pat. With the launch party of the rebranded station in full swing, Pat returns with a shotgun. Hostages are held, demands are set, and Partridge, who initially escapes, must go back to serve as negotiator between Pat and the police. With this simple premise in place, Coogan and co-writers Peter Baynham, Neil and Rob Gibbons, and Armando Iannucci (Veep, In the Loop) have given their character the perfect setup for the ensuing shenanigans, wisely keeping the stakes small. When Partridge realizes how big the national coverage of the siege is getting, his narcissism takes over, and he begins to do whatever it takes to keep the spotlight on himself – at one point turning the conveyance of Pat’s demands to the police, in front of a large crowd of onlookers, into an impromptu stand-up set. Longtime fans of Partridge may notice a softening of the edges in the transition to the big screen, but while there may be less depression and bleak reflection on the regret of certain life choices, there’s still plenty of nonchalant cruelty and relentless one-upmanship to satisfy even the most devout fan.
Coogan’s comic timing has never been better, and Meaney is perfectly cast as his friend/foil. The film hums along at a brisk pace, piling one witty absurdity on top of another. Alan Partridge is one of the more satisfying comedies in recent memory, and with rumors of a sequel, let’s hope that this is the beginning of Alan Partridge, movie star. He definitely wouldn’t have it any other way.