Directed by Declan Lowney
There’s no shortage of clueless bluster in comedy, but the particularly blinkered small vanity in talkshow host turned small-market DJ Alan Partridge proves to be one deep well of larfs. The first movie to feature Steve Coogan’s signature character from British television and radio surges past other such transitions to the big screen with a comic portrayal that, in its spontaneity and detail, rivals the best of the past year’s dramatic performances.
Striving to impress, a middle England boy made middling, Partridge quietly rules over his little patch of the airwaves in sleepy Norwich with brilliantly insipid patter. When a corporate takeover leads a colleague (Colm Meaney) to take the station hostage, Partridge, as the police’s chosen go-between, shifts from angling for career preservation to basic survival. As an opportunity for performance, the crisis energizes him anew with the fuel of being a public presence, even as the notion of actually committing any brave act is too terrifying to dwell upon.
It’s a delightful irony that so much comedy involves the beautiful simulation of doing exactly the wrong thing. Coogan, a peerless mimic, responds organically in character as the feckless Partridge, inevitably reaching for gauche phrasing or obtusely pulling rank. There are broad, laugh-out-loud moments, but more often Partridge’s anxious garrulity simply washes over you, so finely imagined that it surpasses the tightrope walks of cringe comedy. Bolstered by some strong supporting players, Coogan’s character (lovingly labored over with other writers) requires no knowledge of his past screen incarnations to enjoy. And it’s something of a relief to see Coogan, whose most successful US crossover may actually be Philomena, as he inhabits Partridge without going stale. The movie was mentioned at least as early as a 2007 New Yorker profile, which poignantly ended with Coogan describing how it feels to perform in character: “It’s like flying… like curling up in a warm blanket. At those moments, life is very simple.” In Partridge’s folly, Coogan flies.
Opens April 4