Whenever Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan team up, it’s comedy gold. Throw in Rob Brydon and it’s platinum. Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People introduced me to this team, while Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, cemented my opinion that anything these guys do is hilarious.
The Trip, which is a film that is stitched together from a British comedy series, is something of a sequel to Tristram Shandy, in that again Coogan and Brydon are playing versions of themselves. Coogan has been hired by a newspaper to write reviews of restaurants in the north of England. His American girlfriend (Margo Stilley) is back in her home country, so he has resorted to asking his some-time colleague, Brydon, to accompany him. It’s sort of like a movable My Dinner With Andre with impressions.
The results are uproariously funny and also heartbreakingly sad. There is no credited screenwriter, so I imagine Coogan and Brydon just made it up as they went along. Things get off to a rollicking start at their first meal, when they compare their Michael Caine impressions.
As the film goes on, we see the pathos underneath the humor. “Coogan” is emotionally needy. He misses his girlfriend, but that doesn’t stop him from making two casual conquests in the course of the trip. He is annoyed when Brydon is recognized and he’s not. He fields calls from his American agent, longing to be in films by auteurs. In one hilarious dream sequence, Ben Stiller appears as his agent, telling him the Coens and the Wajchowskis, “both of them,” are interested in him. “All of the brothers are interested in you.”
Brydon is unfailingly cheerful and patient, and extremely happy in cozy domesticity, which seems to annoy Coogan even more. He acts like he can’t stand to be with him, hearing his constant impressions (Brydon can’t go more than a few seconds without doing Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, or Woody Allen, to name a few) but deep down he’s more afraid of being alone. “You’re a good bloke, despite what people say,” Coogan tells Brydon, his way of expressing affection.
Brydon is completely aware of Coogan’s failings, but is too busy enjoying himself to let it bother him. When Coogan, trying to cross a river on stepping stones, gets stuck halfway across, not being able to go forward or back, Brydon calls out, “You’re stuck in a metaphor!”
There are loads of laughs in the film. My favorite bit is when Coogan and Brydon, riding through the stone-walled landscape of the north country (there are some beautiful vistas) riff on a before-the-battle-speech that one might hear in a period adventure film. “To bed!” Coogan improvises, “For we rise at 9:30-ish.” Or when Coogan is smoking pot, and Brydon declines, and Coogan accuses him of not living dangerously. Brydon reminds him of when he had a Red Bull and Coke. There’s also the scene where Coogan tries to deconstruct the lyrics of ABBA’s hit “The Winner Takes It All,” which both men sing with gusto.
I would imagine that Britishers, who have seen these guys on television, would get a lot more of the in-jokes, but even without all the cultural references I thought this was a gas-and-a-half.
My grade for The Trip: A-.