The Trip

a film by Michael Winterbottom

What do you get when you take an unscripted six-episode British reality TV show ostensibly about English cooking and featuring a pair of B-list celebrities who pretend to not like each other by sniping and snarking at one another over dishes of scallops and pigeon and martinis with the consistency of snot (what the show is really about), and edit it down to a releasable running time for American audiences? Well you get a sometimes awkward, sometimes morose but often-funny comedy of insults, impressions and one-upmanship starring the acerbic comic actors/writers (and actual good friends) Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. What you get is The Trip.

The premise, which is merely incidental anyway (just a way to get these guys bickering over everything from girl-chasing to the recreational drug use of dead poets to the nasal quality in Michael Caine's voice), is that Steve Coogan, playing himself, is sent on a trip to Northern England in order to write an article on the cuisine of the region. Having had his girlfriend back out on him, Coogan, after an apparent slew of refusals, asks sometimes comedy partner Rob Brydon, also playing himself, to join him. After this, hilarity ensues. Well, perhaps hilarity is a bit of a strong term (though accurate on several occasions), but it is a damn funny movie when it wants to be.

For those of you unfamiliar with either Coogan or Brydon (and that is probably many of you sadly enough) please allow me to give a brief introduction/explanation of the careers of these fine gentlemen. Coogan is the better known of the two here in the states, having had parts in Night at the Museum, Tropic Thunder and The Other Guys, as well as playing opposite Jackie Chan in the remake of Around the World in 80 Days, but is best known in his home country as the creator of the fictional TV host (a la Larry Sanders) Alan Partridge. Brydon on the other hand is mostly known for his impressions and quirky characters created for his stand-up career and subsequent career as game show/talk show panelist. The two most prominently starred together in the hilarious 2006 Michael Winterbottom satire A Cock and Bull Story.

And now here they are again in a Michael Winterbottom film (Coogan's third, Brydon's second). As one of the most eclectic auteurs in recent history (with an oeuvre that includes such disparate works as 24 Hour Party People, Road to Guantanamo, The Claim, 9 Songs, A Mighty Heart and The Killer Inside Me) Winterbottom basically just allows his stars to do their thing in The Trip - which in this case is portraying exaggerated versions of their own public personas, one a clown, one a grump. It is this relationship that of course makes the film work as smoothly as it does and it is this mock disdain for each that makes it as awkward as it is.

In the end, The Trip lives or dies on the ability of Coogan and Brydon to work their shtick, and for the most part their shtick sticks (Ha!). With moments of sheer comic brilliance (the highlight of which may be either the Michael Caine-off the two comics have with their dueling impressions or an ad-libbed discussion about filming a period piece and what time they would need to get up in order to make it to the battle in time) interspersed amongst some lesser bits, The Trip does indeed work as it should. Even the more melancholy moments (mainly Coogan feeling bad for himself even while acting the cocksure egomaniac) work as they should. All-in-all the film may not be the veritable barrel of laughs one would imagine it being (one thinks of In the Loop, one of the funniest Brit comedies in recent years, incidentally featuring Coogan in a small role) but still a solid funny work of improve indeed. [08/13/11]