Monday, September 30, 2013

NYFF ’13: Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge could be described as the Ted Baxter of North Norfolk, except he is more self-centered and less self-aware.  The alter-ego of comedian Steve Coogan is wildly popular in the UK, but more of a cult thing here in America. Regardless, cinema obviously represented the next logical step for the name brand franchise established through radio, TV, books, and webisodes. North Norfolk’s smarmiest broadcaster finally gets the attention he craves with Declan Lowney’s Alan Partridge (a.k.a. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, trailer here), which screens during the 51st New York Film Festival.

As fans know all too well, Partridge currently hosts Mid-Morning Matters on North Norfolk Digital with Sidekick Simon. Initially, the shallow blowhard thinks little of it when a Clear Channel-like conglomerate acquires the station, rebranding it the “SHAPE.” However, when Partridge agrees to speak to the new management on behalf of his nervous colleague, Pat Farrell, he learns either he or his supposed friend will face the corporate axe.  Of course, Partridge unsubtly stabs Farrell in the back.

The pink-slipped Farrell takes the news rather badly, returning to the station with a shotgun for a spot of hostage taking. Assuming the best of his two-faced pal, Farrell demands Partridge act as the go-the-between as a police stand-off ensues. Finding himself in the media spotlight, Partridge is determined to capitalize on this career opportunity, but as always, he fumbles and bumbles at every step.

If you like Partridge, the Partridge film delivers plenty, but the laugh lines are pretty much exclusively reserved for Coogan’s signature Character. It is often very funny, but it very definitely stays within the Partridge Zone.  After all, satisfying the existing fan-base is the most pressing objective for any TV franchise crossing over to the big screen, which should certainly be the case here. Fear not, Partridge never develops a conscience or any sense of decorum.

Co-written by Coogan and his frequent collaborator Armando Iannucci, with Neil Gibbons, Rob Gibbons, and Peter Baynham, the film raises the stakes from previous Partridge outings, what with the hostage crisis and all, while staying true to its roots.  Naturally identified as conservative in past incarnations (because that is so conducive to success with the BBC), the big-screen Partridge wisely eschews politicized humor in favor of broad physical comedy and the comeuppance of public humiliation.

Coogan still clearly enjoys the Partridge shtick and Lowney maintains a snappy energy level throughout. Although Colm Meaney gets second billing as Farrell, he does not have much opportunity to exercise his considerable comedy chops (ironically showcased quite nicely in Terry George’s hostage comedy renamed The Stand-Off, post-Tribeca). It is Partridge’s show and don’t you forget it. Enjoyably shameless overall, Alan Partridge is recommended for series fans when it screens again next Monday (10/7) at Alice Tully Hall as a main slate selection of the 2013 NYFF.