Simplicity still works. Michael Winterbottom has reminded us that sometimes comedies work best when they are slight and intimate. His naturalistic approach to filming two funny men talking at various restaurant tables is a refreshing bit of British humor. The Trip (2010), directed by Winterbottom and starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon is a much needed break from typically nauseating and formulaic brainless comedies churned out by big American studios.
If you’ve seen Winterbottom’s earlier film with Coogan and Brydon, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005) you might have chuckled quite a bit, but if you’re like me then you probably laughed most at the end credits where Coogan and Brydon verbally spar against each other in an empty theater. They’re just being themselves and they’re just goofing off and it is hilarious. While Tristram Shandy is a big in-joke on the legendary voluminous novel rather than a faithful adaptation, The Trip is simply Coogan and Brydon joking with each other in expensive restaurants. In a way it is an extension of the end credits for Tristram Shandy and perhaps a funnier take on My Dinner With Andre.
Steve Coogan plays Steve Coogan, a talented but unsettled actor typecast as a comedy character. Rob Brydon plays Rob Brydon, a stable bit comedy actor and impressionist gently content with his station. Steve has to take a trip up north to sample foods from ritzy restaurants for a magazine. Not wishing to go alone, and his American girlfriend busy in the States, he reluctantly invites Rob to tag along. That’s the setup and that’s all you need.
Coogan inadvertently reveals his insecurities as they jest and dine throughout the film. Brydon acts as a more playful counterpart with less regard for keeping up appearances. I presume the two boys get along better in real life than how they act with each other on collaborations like this. Their snarky jabs and jeers and funny but biting. Coogan chases women and considers plastic surgery and ponders his place in the universe as a man beyond 40. Coogan is not particularly keen on Brydon’s incessantly comfortable mugging and tries to call his agent or his girlfriend any chance he gets. There is much subtlety to this film and it reveals much about manhood, insecurity, and male relationships. In many ways it reminded me of a more subtle Sideways. In a way it is the story of many men who see themselves as charming losers desperately clawing after attention.
Enough delving into the fragile complexities of mandom. What really establishes this film is the comedy element. This movie has some of the best (and most natural and believable and funny) impression battles ever put on film. Michael Caine, Al Pacino, Anthony Hopkins, Woody Allen, Ronnie Corbett, Richard Burton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stephen Hawking, Richard Gere, Ray Winstone, Michael Sheen, Wallace (of Wallace and Gromit), Dustin Hoffman, Sean Connery, and more show up in this movie (all expertly channeled through the mediums of Brydon and Coogan). Some who have seen the movie might not remember all of the aforementioned impressions and that is because the movie is actually a cutting from the six episode series that aired on British TV. The series is fantastic and has more wonderful content than could be fit into the film, but the movie works very well as a standalone representation—even if the mirth be truncated just a touch.
Many folks in the United States will be familiar with Steve Coogan from a few American films (Hamlet 2, Tropic Thunder, Around the World in 80 Days, The Other Guys), but in The Trip he is allowed to not only be funny but he may be even more dimensional and interesting to watch. Rob Brydon might be a stranger to most of you American folks, but you will fall in love with him pretty quickly I’d wager. I sure did.
All in all I found The Trip to be one of the most refreshing comedies I’ve seen in years. It was humorous and affecting. I loved it. If you like sly British wit, impressions galore, subtle snippets of human fragility, or diabolically ornate culinary presentations then this might be the film for you. I dare not say anymore, but if you’re sick of cheap, lowbrow flicks that sooner deliver a yawn than a smile then check out Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip starring the hilarious Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.
“Gentlemen to bed!”