Review: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

alan partridge

I finally managed to see Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa yesterday. For a film that has topped the box office charts it didn't feel like a big hit. There were about six people in the cinema, but then it was an afternoon screening in Edinburgh and I guess with the Fringe Festival raging all over the city it has a fair bit of competition for those in search of laughs.*

Perhaps this dull-afternoon-screening mood added to the feeling that while Alan Partridge is really funny in places it also feels like a small film, very much a television spin-off trying to be a real movie rather than succeeding. I know it is not fair to put films in competition with each other (though if that's the case why are there box office charts?) but I could not resist comparing it to The World's End. Simon Pegg and co's film was not significantly funnier, but it somehow felt more, filmic.

Despite the fact that both The World's End and Alpha Papa are set in provincial England and make great play of the provincial-ness – Coogan makes me laugh just be saying "Diss" – I can't quite put my finger on why, but somehow The World's End feels like it will travel better. Both feel very much like they are trying to pull off the same trick of putting a comedy twist on familiar formats, from zombie/horror to hostage/siege. Maybe Pegg and co do it better because they have more passion for what the genre they are playing with, but again, that's based on instinct, not fact.

So anyway, by now anyone who has bothered to read this far will have presumably seen the endless trailers and promos for AP so will know the set-up, how AP becomes the unlikely hero of a hostage situation at his local radio station. In fact this is one of those rare occasions where the actual film is better than the trailer. Although there are some gross-out gags that could appear anywhere – Coogan losing his trousers, a tupperware tub of excrement – everything else fits fairly neatly together, give or take a few plot-holes.**

Some critics have suggested that Partridge has changed in this film, that he is not a patch on the Partridge of the Travel Tavern era. But, heck, are sitcom characters not allowed an emotional arc? Coogan had chocolate-mousse-flavoured sex in I'm Alan Partridge so his love tryst here should not be such a surprise. Does Partridge, at 55, still have to be the man who smuggles a large plate into the buffet? I like the fact that while he still wears leather driving gloves (can you even still buy leather driving gloves?) and sings along to Roachford he can also save the day. Just because he is a custard-flavoured coward does not mean that he cannot turn things round, albeit a bit by accident in the final Norfolk shootout.

Will this film finally establish Coogan in Hollywood? I doubt it. In fact if it is a success it will probably link Coogan to Partridge more closely than ever and he will never shake off the character – not that he seems to want to. And he is undoubtedly brilliant as the immature, borderline autistic DJ with the social skills of a child. It is worth seeing Alpha Papa just to see Alan Partridge dancing down a corridor or on his hands and knees picking up a pair of driving gloves. 


*The film does have some Fringe links. Coogan and Sidekick Simon, played by Tim Key, both won the Edinburgh Comedy Award. And, here's an interesting fact, the chair of the Foster's Comedy Awards panel last year was powerhouse Lindsay Hughes who works for Coogan's production company Baby Cow. In fact Lynn in the movie was named after Lindsay, but that's where the similarity ends…

**The biggest hole in AP:AP is exactly the same shaped hole as in TWE – both films would have benefited from an appearance from modern comedy's usually ubiquitous talisman Kevin Eldon.

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