The Trip Comedy In The Countryside, Pain In The Heart Steve Coogan (left) and Rob Brydon, who play themselves in Michael
Winterbottom's "The Trip".
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
June 17, 2011
"The Trip" reunites director Michael Winterbottom with the talented duo of
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (both of the director's "Tristram Shandy".)
"The Trip" finds its two leads, who play themselves, venturing out of their
London homes and driving to the outer reaches of the English countryside.
"The Trip" expanded its release in select U.S. cities today and is on video on
demand next week.
Steve, looking for bigger and better acting opportunities in film, takes a
semi-vacation. The Observer newspaper has asked Steve to visit
several restaurants in England's Lake Country in the Northwest, specifically
West Yorkshire. Steve's girlfriend Mischa (Margo Stilley of Mr.
Winterbottom's "9 Songs") was his original choice of company
on the trip up North, but for unexplained reasons she declines.
We know that Steve and Mischa have a tenuous relationship. (Ms. Stilley by
the way, bears a strong resemblance to, and sounds like, Maggie Gyllenhaal.)
We know that Steve has a teenage son. Rob has a wife and daughter he loves
dearly, and seems less pressed to worry about his career. He's a family
man and Steve's closest friend. Together they trek north, entertaining and
aggravating each other along the way.
"The Trip" skillfully executes what is an elongated conversation piece ala "My
Dinner With Andre" but keeps its characters fluid and moving in different
settings, even if one of the characters is static in life's day-to-day. As
the comedic routines and bickering between this "married couple" ensues
something else percolates beneath the surface, yet the film's editing by Mags
Arnold and Paul Monaghan often purposely truncates or abruptly terminates the
episodes until the film's latter third, when some of the unspoken feelings and
moods are allowed to emerge and flow. If it had ever been forgotten that
comedy comes from pain, "The Trip" discreetly reminds us.
Mr. Winterbottom makes good use of expansive natural terrain, accentuating
expanse but also distance and loneliness, marked by Steve, who is often isolated
yet can't seem to get away from himself even when he's alone. The director
often emphasizes the vastness of natural settings in smaller character-driven
films ("9 Songs"), as a means of reinforcing disconnection or distance from,
rather than harmony with, the character. A look at the Antarctic in
"Songs" felt more like alienation or isolation from human life than an
appreciation of natural beauty or harmony with it, and in "The Trip" when Steve
treks up a mountain and walks along its summit he, and we, don't get time to
enjoy and appreciate it, in an amusing scene.
A male-bonding comedy at its heart, "The Trip" hilariously comments on pop
culture and beloved English and Welsh actors, whom both Steve and Rob do
impressions of with glee, each trying to one-up the other like rival brothers in
mischief. When they aren't intoning some of the world's most famed actors
they are commenting on women and the accoutrements of the hotel rooms they stay
in. "The Trip" glories in the informal pissing contest between Rob and
Steve, and it is at the heart of the film's wild laughter.
Mr. Coogan in particular excels as the straight man to Mr. Brydon's torrent of
verbal gymnastics, although both are hardly beneath making complete lovable
fools of themselves. Mr. Winterbottom films "The Trip" in a documentary
style suited more for television, where both actors are very much at home.
You needn't know of Mr. Coogan's and Mr. Brydon's comic routines in British
productions (namely the forerunning BBC TV program "The Trip"!) to enjoy them
here, although as a native Londoner I thoroughly enjoyed the in-jokes and
references to British tunes and television.
Essentially a feature film edition of the multi-part BBC TV series, the "Trip"
interactions between Mr. Coogan (also a Winterbottom alum in "24 Hour Party
People") and Mr. Brydon are purely improvisational. Their philosophical
banter is always enjoyable and effective, even when the humor isn't so sharp.
For all their energy and enthusiasm you sense however, that Steve and Rob are
restraining themselves. This strait-jacketing of the some aspects of their
characters or alter egos works well for "The Trip" as it builds to its climax,
whose arrival is not entirely out of the blue. We see and feel glimpses of
truth underlying the irony in some of the words these two men utter, and
suggestions of emptiness in the routines and grind of life.
"The Trip" sees two middle-aged men worrying about age, about family and
Everything matters in this smart, entertaining comedy: the purposefully
out-of-kilter non-matching shots during phone conversations to emphasize an
out-of-sync feel and distance; the barren, colorless but no less beautiful
locations; and food, a major character in its own right. Decorously and
sparsely presented food is a metaphor for the food of life, which either or both
of these men haven't tasted enough of.
Mr. Winterbottom never seems to make exactly the same film twice, venturing from
documentary ("The Road To Guantanamo Bay", "The Shock Doctrine") to fact-based
drama ("A Mighty
Heart") to comedy (the aforementioned "Party People") to concert
interlude ("9 Songs") to fictional drama ("The Killer Inside Me".) More
often than not the results are good, and "The Trip" falls into the "more often"
Moving, funny and clever, "The Trip" is a journey well worth taking, accounting
for greater fun and joy than its eventual final destination provides.
With: Claire Keelan, Rebecca Johnson, Dolya Gavanski, Paul Popplewell.