My Five Cents: Alpha Papa

Five brief thoughts on a (relatively) recent film. Some delay in seeing this one due to delayed download release in North America. I waited for a screening but there’s no real surprise that this film doesn’t really have a Canadian audience.

1) Let’s start by saying this a really great comedy film. As we have come to expect from this team, the script is a real master work. In fact, it’s so dense with various jokes  that even without Edgar Wright style twists, background details or forward references it definitely rewards repeat viewing just to pick up on all the jokes that are there. The reason the film is so rich in this regard is that the laughs come from so many different areas – jokes made by Alan himself, situational jokes, character jokes, visual humour, schadenfreude and most of all jokes at Alan’s expense.

2) So let’s split the audience for this film. I have been a fan for some time of the various Partridge TV series and so for me, this is part of a wider story. For somebody who is less familiar with this background, I think the film works but could be seen as baffling in places. For example, whilst I am really happy to see the return and centrality of Sidekick Simon from Mid-Morning Matters (played perfectly by Tim Key, a character perfectly suited to Partridge), the return of Geordie Michael (from I’m Alan Partridge) seemed a little like crowbarred in fan service. Michael plays nearly no part in the main plot, is associated with only one humour set piece and even to feature in the story, circumstances have had to conspire for him to quit his service station job and get a job as the security guard of the radio station. Whilst a fan is happy to see the return of such a beloved character, even if he doesn’t really fit the film very well, to someone who is not familiar with the back catalogue, this character is baffling. He’s a weirdo who seems to know Alan with no hint of how they are friends and is introduced in a way that makes him seem raving mad. Such details probably don’t register with a new viewer too much but go some way to explain why this remains a brilliant tie-in film and not a breakthrough mainstream success.

3) Recent news suggests that Coogan, Ianucci et al will ride the success of this film and keep Alan Partridge stories rolling by filming a new series of Mid-Morning Matters  to air in 2014. Whilst to fans like me this is manna from heaven, it does outline a weird aspect of the film. Alan Partridge (specifically I’m Alan Partridge) has been an archetypal British comedy about a failed star who is intensely lonely. He lived in a travel tavern where the staff made fun of him and developed odd relationships with a lonely petrol station clerk, a much-abused personal secretary with low self esteem and a mentally unstable Ukranian girlfriend. Alan is the sort of person obsessed with boyish interests like James Bond, fast cars and gadgets but actually lives a mundane and tragicomic life. It’s no surprise that (in a brilliant scene) Alan and policeman discuss their favourite seiges (Alan definitely would have a favourite seige, it goes without question). The difference in Alpha Papa is that this Pinter-esque lonely man in a comedy of nothings suddenly is in the middle of the sort of situation he fantasises about – a real action movie scenario and a real opportunity to revive his career again. To switch from a series where the highlight was stealing a traffic cone to an actual seige with the real Sean Pertwee and real guns is a bit like David Brent playing wembley stadium or Gob Bluth getting a Vegas residency. Whether Alan can scale such peaks and then return to the mundanity of Mid-Morning Matters remains unclear but by all means, whilst Steve Coogan is still willing to return to the character and whilst the writers continue to have great material for him, let’s get as much Alan as we can.

4) Talking of further ideas, we saw the much downtrodden Lynn, “get ideas above her station” and have to “wind her neck in”. The film never has as much joy as when this character seems close to throwing off her shackles and asserting herself as something more than Alan’s valet, chauffeur, secretary and personal maid. If further episodes include Lynn, let’s include more of this. The film gave me everything I wanted to see in an Alan Partridge movie…..but only tempted me briefly with this.

5) And yes, let’s talk Norwich, specifically the pedestrianisation of Norwich City Centre. From external shots, we can see that the North Norfolk Digital building is near to the market, somewhere on Bethel street probably. Arial shots show this is impossible, but let’s go with it any way. All this shows that Alan must be really delirious when he asks the woman to drive him to the police station with any local knowing that the Police station is right behind him…….I think this has somehow stopped being a film blog. Oh well.


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