The Trip

27 Jun

Title: The Trip
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Michael Winterbottom
Writer: 
Starring: 
Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon
MPAA Rating: 
Not rated
Runtime: 
107 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 
88%

 

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are two very funny men with some pretty sharp wits, and they both starred together in a film some five years ago called Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story in which they played heightened versions of themselves in a very meta environment. They did sort of what Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart do on their brilliant Comedy Central shows, they are essentially playing themselves, but they are acting nonetheless, adding an egotistical sense to their portrayals and developing this sort of rivalry between each other. And, much like Mr. Colbert and Mr. Stewart, these two Brits are terrific when they play off each other, just riffing along and creating some very neat moments, and director Michael Winterbottom, who directed that first film, thought they were good enough as themselves that he should get them to do it again in an even more improvisational setting, and The Trip is the result of that idea, and boy was it a good one.

Originally this was a six-part series the BBC did, which saw Mr. Coogan being asked to do this sort of gastronomic tour of the north of Britain and write about the restaurants he went to for a national newspaper. That’s the trip the title refers to, one which, after his girlfriend and a couple of others turn him down, he invites Mr. Brydon on. I haven’t seen the series, though I hear it was brilliant, so I really can’t compare that three-hour experience to this one which lasts less than two. My guess is that what was lost the most was just longer scenes with these two just talking over a meal, because there are times in which this condensed version does feel like it has a rushed pacing, kind of like it was hurrying to get from one location to the next, and I’ll check out the series because I think that would make this a better experience, though what we got was still undeniably hilarious.

In paper watching a film that consists mostly of shots of people talking while on a carride or eating, and of shots of beautiful places and beautiful meals and just watching these two men face this sort of midlife crisis may seem a bit boring, but it’s really not. Both Mr. Coogan and Mr. Brydon are exceptionally gifted at improvisation comedy, and they make every second of their witty bantering with each other, each constantly trying to prove superior against the other, feel truly genuine and it really gives The Trip all the assets it needed to become a very successful little comedy.

Then there’s the part in which Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon the actors, and not the improv comics just riffing of each other, come into play, and that’s just very good stuff, too. Because, yes, the witticisms that are so fully on display for a good chunk of the movie are undeniably awesome to watch come out, and they will certainly entertain you, but if this film were just that then The Trip would be just as good as a series of improv comedy bits that you could watch during your spare time on YouTube in separate order. But the film is as good as it because when these two get to the emotions of their characters on display this really becomes a special little film, just each of them trying to very differently cope with their very different midlife crisis, Mr. Brydon has a nice home and a great family to come home to, but he’s certainly in one nevertheless, just take a look at his face when he tries to have phone sex with his wife, and then there’s Mr. Coogan, who doesn’t really have much of a family situation to come back to, and who gets a very similar look on his face when a woman recognizes Mr. Brydon and not him, because Mr. Coogan is all about their rivalry, saying he’s better and thinking he deserves more A-list material.

There a handful of really neat moments between these two, the impressions these two start acting out, especially that Michael Caine one done by Mr. Brydon are awfully funny to watch, and their whole dynamic just really work. And it’s that dynamic, propelled by the individual talents of these two, that makes these characters they play, these versions of themselves, feel very relatable at times, and never really annoying, like they certainly could have turned out had they been handled by lesser actors, and what we ultimately get is a very fun trip. I don’t really know where the real Mr. Coogan and Mr. Brydon end and where the versions of themselves they created for this film begin, but whatever the balance may be they are witty, they can really make fun of each other, and we get some pretty neat philosophical sort of questions here that are quite nice to see these two take a stab at.

And that to me was, I think, part of the pleasure of The Trip, to sort of figure out where the real man ended and his on-screen character began, to figure out if Mr. Coogan really desires celebrity so damn much, if Mr. Brydon really is so impervious to the offenses launched at him by his mate. And it’s a question I haven’t really figured out yet, and they probably can’t answer exactly how much is them and how much isn’t, but what matters is that it really works, and right now I’m off to check out the original series, because my guess is that with more time of just these two conversing it’ll work even better.

Grade: B+

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