US Release Date: 06/10/2011
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip.
In 2006, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon played fictionalized versions of themselves in Michael Winterbottom's Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. Now they've both returned in another of his films, again playing exaggerated versions of themselves, although to call this a sequel is a bit of a stretch, as there's no need to even have any knowledge of that earlier work to enjoy this one.
The plot could not be simpler. Coogan is invited to go on a restaurant tour of the north of England for a column in The Observer newspaper. When his girlfriend decides they need a break and returns to America, Coogan invites Brydon to accompany him instead. The two of them spend a week together driving through the wild and beautiful scenery of the North, enjoying increasingly pretentious meals at idyllic looking country restaurants.
Not much of a story you might say, but it's more than enough because the real joy here is watching and listening to the banter between Coogan and Brydon. Coogan is his usual insecure, fame hungry self, as befits the creator of Alan Partridge. Brydon is the much more easy going sidekick. Coogan is having relationship problems and sleeps with two different women over the course of the film, while Brydon is a happily married family man. Their good natured, but occasionally vicious ribbing and insults towards each other is more entertaining than any more complicated plot would be.
Brydon, who is much less well known in America, is a very talented impersonator. His standup routine is peppered with the likes of Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Richard Burton, Dustin Hoffman, Hugh Grant, Al Pacino and many, many others. He trots out all of them here, often to the annoyance of Coogan, who is also a dab hand at mimicry. Their dueling Michael Caine's is one of the movie's highlights.
Amongst all the humor, the movie also shows off the northern English countryside. From snowcapped rolling hills and through the Lake District and into the country villages, it definitely presents it as an appealing place to visit.
Although definitely a comedy, there is also a hint of sadness to the story. Coogan is a lonely man, whose career isn't going the way he wants it to go. He's divorced and a distant father. His relationships are shallow and fleeting. His expensive, but cold and empty flat is in sharp contrast to Brydon's warm and family filled home.
While you might wonder how a movie that basically consists of two blokes talking could fill a full movie, you should know that the movie is actually an edited down version of a 6 part BBC television series. Just watching these two talk originally filled over three hours. Granted, you wouldn't want to sit through those three hours in one go, but there's definitely enough there for a mere hour and 47 minutes.
The Trip is easily my favorite comedy of the year so far.
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Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing variations of themselves in The Trip
Rob Brydon's and Steve Coogan's Michael Caine impersonations duel is definitely a highlight, and are so spot on that I looked at the credits to see if they actually used Caine's real voice. I also like the dueling Sean Connery, and the line from The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), spoken by Francisco Scaramanga, "Come, come, Mr. Bond, you derive as much pleasure from killing as I do." The Woody Allen impressions are not as convincing.
Brydon and Coogan have the kind of amazing rapport only found with friends who have spent plenty of time together. This is best exemplified by the scene where the elderly woman excitedly recognizes Brydon, while a slightly perturbed Coogan looks on. Individually, they would likely bore me. Together, they gently compliment, as well as irritate each other.
Although they are definitely an entertaining team, I would not call The Trip the best comedy of the year. At one stop they discover some glorious scenery. Coogan says, "You can't paint that. Well you could, but it would be rubbish." It is mildly amusing, but not hilarious. Some jokes drag on, such as the, "Gentlemen, to bed, for we rise at daybreak..." conversation. My favorite moment is when Brydon asks Coogan if he would allow one of his kids to become ill if it meant he would win an Academy Award.
The, "...hint of sadness to the story." is that Coogan plays such an unsatisfied man. He beds different women, and turns down a role on "Doctor Who," but he is not content. It is only in those moments where he jokes around with Brydon that he seems sincerely happy.
So often we see movies about teen or twenty something best friends bonding. Here we find two middle aged men, who are just as charming together as The Inbetweener boys. Brydon and Coogan need each other's company as much as Simon, Jay, Neil and Will. The Trip demonstrates that no matter what our age, we all need a best friend who can put us off, cheer us up and sing ABBA songs with.
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Steve Coogan offers Rob Brydon a bite of his dessert in The Trip.
I would say there is more than a hint of sadness to The Trip. It exudes a pervasive sense of melancholy throughout. For Steve humor provides a relief from his feelings of career stagnation and dissatisfaction with life in general. Rob, by far the happier and more content of the two, repeatedly attempts to lift his chum’s spirits. He is the simpler of the two and far less bitter than Steve. Yes some of the dialogue is hilarious and both blokes are talented, but most comedies don’t leave me with a tinge of sadness the way The Trip did.
True friendship is a rare commodity and these guys truly exemplify it. They finish each other’s sentences and share a similar aesthetic in terms of taste and humor. Their constant back and forth verbiage is a joy to witness and at times difficult to keep up with. I laughed in the scene where Steve pedantically lectures Rob on how ancient glaciers formed the limestone rock formations they are sightseeing, only to climb up alone and run smack into an older gentlemen that does the same thing to him. I’d never before realized just how breathtaking the wilds of Northern England are.
My favorite impression of Rob’s was his Hugh Grant. He is not only spot on with the timber of his voice and Grant’s halting manner of speaking but he also looks quite a bit like the actor. He has far more success with British actors than American ones. His Woody Allen, Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman renditions are passable but certainly not great.
Food and sex are the two great physical pleasures in life. Scott mentioned the increasingly pretentious meals these guys share on their trip. To me people that take dining to this level have a sort of food fetish. Just as cooking shows are like pornography for the taste buds. The look hungry people get in their eyes right before devouring a coveted meal is not dissimilar to a lustful gaze at a naked body after all. A look, by the way, that both Coogan and Brydon demonstrate at different times in the movie.
The Trip mixes humor and sadness in a rather unusual way. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (neither of whom I was familiar with before now) are both talented men and I enjoyed taking this cinematic journey alongside them.
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Photos © Copyright Studio Canal (2011)