Thursday, June 12, 2014

"Alan Partridge": What The Hell Does Alpha Papa Even Mean?

Now Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Alan Partridge is a character from the mind of British comedian Steve Coogan, who has brought Partridge to life through multiple venues, most notably British television.  The film Alan Partridge (subtitled Alpha Papa outside the U.S.) is an attempt to translate the character to the big screen and potentially find an American audience.  I can’t say with any certainty how well the film fares with either of those goals, for I don’t know how faithful it is to the source material, nor have I heard much from American audiences about its reception.  However, I do know a funny comedy when I see one, and despite some character establishment issues, Alan Partridge is a film worth seeing for its clever writing.

Partridge is a DJ at a radio station that has recently been bought out by new corporate management.  Fellow DJ Pat (played by Colm Meaney, whom you may remember as Chief O’Brien from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine) has been fired due to his show’s relatively low ratings, which drives poor Pat a bit mad.  Pat takes the radio station under siege with a shotgun, Partridge takes the role of hostage negotiator, shenanigans ensue.  There’s obviously a message here about the heartlessness of corporate takeovers, but thankfully the film does not belabor the same point we’ve seen made in countless other films.  The focus is on the witty dialogue and well-conceived physical comedy, and while I would never say it’s gut-bustingly hilarious, I was consistently entertained by whatever was coming out of Partridge’s mouth.

Your mileage is going to vary depending on your sense of humor.  Steve Coogan’s comedy seems to revolve around a few key factors.  Partridge has a huge ego, and while we as the audience see him as a bumbling idiot who is clearly overcompensating for his lack of intelligence, this is further complimented by the fact that everyone else is dumber than he is.  Nobody really stoops to the level of being unrealistically stupid, but everyone seems to be a few IQ points lower than real-world human beings.  This justifies Partridge’s ego, which allows him to keep being ridiculous with few consequences, so the jokes just keep coming as rapid-fire.  And the jokes are mostly wordplay, so as long as you pay close attention and have a quick wit, Partridge’s humor shouldn’t be lost on you.

The one thing I will say against this film, though, it that it seems to assume that we already know something about a few of the film’s side characters.  No one except Partridge and Pat get much of an introduction, yet there seem to be some ancillary character arcs for characters who don’t much affect the story at all, namely Partridge’s… assistant/housekeeper?  She’s barely introduced, and the time spent on her feels wasted without proper context.  Some other side characters, like a crazy old man and a love interest, are just thrust upon us without any introduction, and I only wish that I knew more of the Alan Partridge lore so that I didn’t feel so out of the loop.

When all’s said and done though, Alan Partridge does its job as a comedy.  It’s smart, funny, and knows exactly how not to overstay its welcome with a ninety minute runtime.  If you’re a fan of the character or are just looking for a good comedy, I’d say you can’t go wrong with this one.

Fan of British comedy?  Share your thoughts on your favorite British comedy moments in the comments below.

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