I’m still of the opinion that Kasi Lemmons is among the most underrated of directors currently working (if, as ever with African-American women directors, not nearly enough). Her film Black Nativity was largely ignored (though delightfully odd), and here, working within a fairly mainstream period biopic vein, she manages to wring something that feels fresh. Of course it helps to have such a great cast — and Cheadle, Ejiofor and, most of all, Taraji P. Henson are on top form. It takes the story of a Washington DC radio personality, Petey Greene (whom I’d never heard of, but that’s on me), and uses it as a starting point to make a story of America in the 60s and 70s. It’s not perhaps the deepest of works, and undoubtedly it takes liberties with the real Petey Greene’s story, but it works as a film and it’s made with grace and passion.
FILM REVIEW Director Kasi Lemmons | Writers Michael Genet and Rick Famuyiwa | Cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine | Starring Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Taraji P. Henson, Martin Sheen | Length 118 minutes || Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Tuesday 10 January 2017
NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director Declan Lowney | Writers Peter Baynham, Steve Coogan, Neil Gibbons, Rob Gibbons and Armando Iannucci | Cinematographer Ben Smithard | Starring Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney | Length 90 minutes | Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue, London, Saturday 10 August 2013 || My Rating very good
Steve Coogan has done a lot of fine acting work, particularly in the films of Michael Winterbottom (A Cock and Bull Story is my own favourite, though earlier this year was the underrated and less overtly comedic The Look of Love), but he remains most famous to British viewers for his character Alan Partridge, who’s had a number of radio and television series not to mention special appearances over the last two decades. The popularity of the character is such, in fact, that it’s prompted this film, though I’m just reciting what I’ve heard because I’d never seen any of these previous appearances (except for his segments on the wonderful The Day Today media satire). Luckily, the film is strong enough to stand on its own without any previous knowledge of his character.
Partridge is by this point a radio broadcaster in his local Norwich, though an erstwhile TV chat show host and before that a sports reporter, known for his terrible fashion sense (knitted sweaters, polo necks and the like), his penchant for bloated MOR rock, his retrogressive political views and most of all, an overweening ego. When the station is taken over and rebranded by a conglomerate named Shape, threatening layoffs, Partridge does all he can to ensure he does not lose his job (or more particularly, his access to whatever small remaining local celebrity he still retains), forcing fellow DJ Pat (played by Colm Meaney) into the firing line. This leads Pat to take the station and its management hostage, and Partridge is the go-between in the ensuing crisis.
There’s some of the same play with a nostalgic past that’s in the other big British comedy of this summer, The World’s End, and though the initial impulse is to laugh at the expense of Alan’s character, in truth there’s a lot of sadness at some of the changes that have occurred, not least those wrought by the rapacious corporate overlords Shape, who have forsaken community values in implementing a bland programming schedule on the radio station. We repeatedly get the sense that the community is behind Pat and Alan rather than the hostages, though that’s only ever around the edges; the filmmakers thankfully aren’t interested in jokes at the expense of the audience (whether the one in the film, or the one watching it).
Beyond this affectionate tribute to the kind of regional and local media that’s so often overlooked, there’s no really big theme to the film, and it’s competently put together. However, it’s consistently funny and sustains the laughs to the end; even the big emotional scenes aren’t played entirely straight, but you get the feeling that beneath the laughs there is a genuine sense of fondness for a disappearing strain of media personality. Steve Coogan may play the character, but the character seems to have his own existence by now.