Should I Watch..? The Trip
What's the big deal?
The Trip is a documentary-style comedy drama film released in 2010 and is directed by British director Michael Winterbottom. Originally broadcast in the UK as a sitcom, the series was edited into a feature film and premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to a positive response from critics. The film follows comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing fictionalised versions of themselves as they embark on a gastronomic tour of northern England. Largely improvised, the film is a series of comic impersonations and underlying rivalry between the two men as they visit a number of restaurants and visitor attractions. The success of the film and subsequent sitcom led to sequels being produced which were made along similar principles, although set in Spain and Italy.
What's it about?
In an attempt to curry favour with his American girlfriend Mischa, actor Steve Coogan accepts a commission from the Observer newspaper to go on a restaurant tour in the north of England. However, Mischa decides to call a break in their relationship and heads back to the US to pursue her own career. Desperately calling all his friends to see who will accompany him, Steve is forced to contact his colleague and sometime-friend Rob Brydon - who accepts Steve's offer.
During the journey, the pair indulge in some serious five-star dining as well as showing off their impressive range of impressions. As the trip goes on, both men engage in a series of attempts to one-up the other while Steve has a number of flings with various women they meet. Depressed by his stalling Hollywood career and infuriated at Rob's ceaseless optimism, can Steve learn something from his road-trip partner or does he simply think too high of himself?
Steve's US Agent
Ben Stiller (uncredited)
Release Date (US)
10th June, 2010
What's to like?
Leaving two men to improvise almost an entire movie sounds like disaster but in the assured hands of two comic veterans, The Trip is a sure-fire hit. Coogan and Brydon play off each other like they've known each other for years and their banter feels a little too near the knuckle at times. What makes it really work is just how believable it is - Coogan being a grumpy and self-absorbed comic actor whose career isn't matching his own expectations while Brydon plays the affable everyman content with his nuclear family. They spar off each other with surgical precision, landing with verbal blows and superb impressions.
Winterbottom's direction feels like a distant one, content to let the actors do their thing against the stunning backdrops of northern England in late winter. It's an easy film to watch with beautiful shots of rugged landscape, ruined monasteries and exquisite food being prepared with Coogan & Brydon bickering in the foreground. There's a minimalist approach to the film with next to no soundtrack besides what the two leads sing to themselves in the car and even dialogue seems limited, although it's all superb. I loved the scene where Brydon is recognised but Coogan (the star, remember) isn't - he looks genuinely gobsmacked!
- Steve picks Joy Division as the soundtrack to their road-trip around the north. Coogan played music producer Tony Wilson, who signed Joy Division to his record label, in 24 Hour Party People.
- The film is actually a continuation of Coogan and Brydon playing themselves in the 2005 indie film A Cock And Bull Story which was also directed by Winterbottom.
- Although US audiences will be more familiar with Coogan due to his appearances in the Night At The Museum series and Tropic Thunder (both alongside Stiller), Brydon has also made a couple of film appearances. He was the unfortunate traffic warden in Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and was also cast in 2015's live-action Cinderella as Master Phineus.
What's not to like?
Like a restaurant's taster menu, there are a couple of things you're not so sure about. As funny as Coogan & Brydon are, the lack of story development is painfully obvious meaning that the film feels far longer than it actually is. And remember, this film cut plenty of material from the sitcom as well in order to compress it into feature-film length so it also manages to miss out certain nuances from the show. It is also quite repetitive - each day of The Trip essentially feels the same as the two visit some nearby site before retiring for their slap-up feast and trading endless impressions of Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Roger Moore and others.
I suspect that American audiences might also miss out on a lot of the cultural references that pop up in dialogue - until Coogan revived him for Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, I suspect that Coogan's trademark "Ahaaa!" wouldn't have made a whole lot of sense. Nevertheless, it's nice to see a quiet little film that explodes with barbed comments and one-liners instead of resorting to toilet humour or becoming a buddy-cop action film. It's like a Death By Chocolate pudding - there's plenty to enjoy and it does what it says on the menu...
Should I watch it?
The Trip won't be to everyone's taste because these days, we've been spoiled by most comedies that seem to involve American teenagers trying to lose their virginity. This is sophisticated and mature viewing that deals with more grown-up themes like jealousy, happiness and the often complicated relationship between old friends who become rivals. But there isn't much more beyond the considerable talents of Coogan and Brydon and I suspect that the TV series is a more rewarding experience overall.
Great For: restaurateurs in northern England, Coogan & Brydon's career, anyone looking for a more sedate comedy, foodies, British audiences
Not So Great For: those in a long-distance relationship, dieters, anyone who doesn't like impressions
What else should I watch?
The closest film I can think of to this is the equally funny Sideways which sees Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church play mismatched buddies on a wine-tasting stag weekend in California and end up pursuing Sandra Oh and Virginia Madsen. Brilliantly written and performed, the film is much funnier that it has any right to be although it does lack the natural spontaneity of The Trip.
Improvised comedies have had a fairly chequered success rate over the years from inspired moments of genius like This Is Spinal Tap to insipid mockumentaries like Confetti. The safest hands are probably Christopher Guest whose series of mockumentary films have proved that Spinal Tap was no fluke - films like Best In Show and A Mighty Wind are also worth checking out.
© 2016 Benjamin Cox