Friday, January 24, 2014

DVD of the Week: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

I've don't think I've ever "got" Alan Partridge. In fact I'm not sure I've ever "got" the man behind him, Steve Coogan, despite the occasional performance in something I've watched that he's been in. He's got a solid reputation, and a good following, and it's not like I've really got anything against him; but he's never been an actor I've sought out, or actively avoided. He just "is". I also have a great reservation when it comes to TV characters (and to a lesser extend, actors) making the jump to a big screen. Most of the time the result is terrible, a lazy rehash made with National Lottery money so that everyone involved can play at being a movie star for a few months. There are exceptions, of course, but far more duds than hits. So an Alan Partridge movie? What the hell am I watching this for?

So as someone with only passing knowledge of Alan Partridge, it seems important to start with the statement that Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa isn't the sort of film you need an encyclopedic knowledge of the character to watch. By the time you get the opening credits you have a feel of the washed-up, vainglorious DJ, fuelled by equal parts ambition, ego and self-pity. He's someone just far away enough from the Limelight to still feel it reflected in his face, and just self-aware enough to know that the way back may be impossible. He's a shallow, self-centred and oblivious, and yet there is something in Coogans performance that stops you actively hating him, a strange alchemy that I can't quite put my finger on. But critically, you don't need to know much about Alans history, to understand Alan.

The second thing to say is that found Alpha Papa really bloody funny. This isn't a film what makes you laugh because you're squirming - well, it does a bit, but thats not it's main thing - it makes you laugh because it's setting up jokes, and good ones. It's farce, basically, heightened and silly and with it's own reality, as things escalate out of everyones control. The situation is simple - the radio station Alan works for has been taken over and rebranded, and sacked college Pat (Colm Meaney) takes it all rather badly, setting up a police siege into which Alan finds himself thrust. And being Alan, this is his big chance to hit the headlines yet again.

The central conflict therefore, is between an underplayed, sad performance from Meaney and the jittery, out-of-his-depth performance from Coogan, and it's this that drives the films best laughs, and emotional core. Again, it's a tough thing to balance out and it helps that the stations new owners are such easy hate-figures so that you never really want to take sides against Pat, for all he's turned into a shotgun-wielding lunatic. Coogan is clearly comfortable in the skin of a man he's been playing for decades, but for me Meaney's performance is what grounds the movie and makes it work. In the end, it's his fate, not Alans, that ended up invested in.

And in the end it all sort of works out. There is a wonderfully ludicrous chase sequence, the sort of tonal shift to emotional darkness that is really hard to get right (but they do) before order is restored. And in one final defiance of movie-going convention, our hero goes on a journey of change and discovery that doesn't affect him at all, teach him anything or actually earn him the rewards he ends up with. See you again in another few years then, Alan?