Thursday, June 23, 2011

New Release Review: The Trip (Michael Winterbottom, 2010)

The Trip, directed by Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People), was originally aired as a six part BBC Television sitcom edited down to this feature length film. While I think the episodic nature of the premise (not to mention the film's length) would make it even more watchable in the shorter instalments, this loosely improvisational, wildly entertaining romp stars celebrated British comedians, Steve Coogan (BAFTA winner for his role in The Trip) and Rob Brydon. It is a follow up to the 2006 film, A Cock and Bull Story, also directed by Winterbottom and joins The Guard and Win Win as one of the funniest films of the year to date.

Commisioned by The Observer to whip up a lifestyle article about fine dining and travel in the Lake District of northern England, a semi-fictional Steve Coogan invites his obliging friend Rob Brydon, apparently the last choice amongst Coogan's mates to be travelling companion, to join him on a road trip after his girlfriend pulls out. Brydon’s chipper and relentless banter and Coogan’s doleful indifference to the job leads to a series of droll bickering, mock insults, recitals of Wordsworth and Coleridge and dueling impressions of movie stars in an attempt to outdo one another.

While I am not that familiar with the individual works of these comedians, The Trip is frequently hilarious, because they work so well together. In a personal and professional rut and somewhat self-obsessed, Coogan’s acerbic sense of humour alternately riffs on and clashes with Brydon’s impersonations, ranging from Michael Caine (the highlight), to Al Pacino and Christoph Waltz.

The larger agenda, however, is to reveal the present tragedy of Coogan’s life. His first choice travel companion, Mischa (Margo Stilley), helped him plan the intinerary and then bowed out and went to work in the United States when the relationship hit a rough patch from which it’s unlikely to recover. Coogan trudges around the Yorkshire moors searching for places to get reception on his mobile – then stands in the fog and has cold, heartless conversations with Mischa, unable to express his desire to turn things around. He also converses disinterestedly with his over-enthusiastic American agent, who is unable to secure the role Coogan is after.

Coogan momentarily escapes the ordeal by sleeping with the attractive women they meet along the way, only to realize, when they slip away at 'day break' that he is stuck with Brydon, who is consent on having peculiar phone sex with his wife during the evenings and the thought of returning to her and his daughter at the end of the week. The trip doesn’t broaden or liberate either man, but blurs the lines between their everyday persona, and those they adopt as performers. The misery of Coogan’s life follows him and his choice of companion only draws out his desire to vent moodily about petty displeasures that plague his existence. 

I was reminded a lot of Sideways - two lifelong friends, who are very different and don't get on very well, trapped in a companionship for the period of a week. In their attempts to escape their miseries for a short time, they end up facing them head on. "He was his usual self," sighs Brydon when he returns to his wife at the end of the week. He is hugged warmly and sits down to a home cooked dinner, while Coogan dumps his luggage at the door and enters his cold, empty high-rise apartment and stands gloomily amongst his useless material pleasures. 

While many viewers will side with Coogan and reel at the thought of spending a week with such a man as Rob Brydon, others will relate to Brydon's carefree charm and be repulsed by Coogan, the self-obsessed loner, desiring a career that is now out-of-reach, with an inability to connect with anyone on an emotional level.

Enhanced by the beautiful footage of the northern hills and moors, Winterbottom has created a hilarious comedy onslaught that reflects both the creative process (pitting an individual with rare moments of genius against one who unleashes a relentless spray of piffy jokes) and the cult of 'personality' through these two gifted and eccentric comedians. It's certainly worth a look. 

My Rating: 4 Stars (B+)  


  1. I'm a big fan of Winterbottom and it's been a while since I've seen some of his films though I'm wary of The Killer Inside Me which is currently on my DVR. I hope this film kind of redeems him. Plus, I love Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.

  2. Ebert wrote about this film ... perhaps worth checking out.

  3. i watched the full 6 part show last year and it was so very very funny so i don;t think im going to see this as a feature as much as i like the idea of hearing the audience reaction to what was some great improvised stuff from the pair.

    is the constant al pacino/michael caine impression competition still featured andy?

  4. to follow that up, in the tv show its every 5 minutes. or feels like it.

  5. @ Steven - The Killer Inside Me was awful, but Winterbottom has quite a diverse career. This is certainly redeeming!

    @ Sam - I had a look at Ebert's review! He liked it, and yeah, it's a pretty simple structure, but through the performances we discover there is quite an unexpected depth to both characters.

    @ Toby - I wasn't aware that it was originally a show until after I saw it and was informed by a friend. I think it would work brilliantly as a miniseries. It is quite episodic and repetitive as a two hour feature, but the laughs are frequent, and yes, there are constant Caine impressions. At least three or four different occasions. Hilarious!

    Thanks for the comments guys. Look forward to reading your thoughts on this!

  6. I've not seen the film but watched the 6-part series religiously when it came out over here in Britain just after Christmas. I'm surprised that non-Brits 'get it', to be honest, because it's so archetypally British; the oneupmanship, the mock self-deprecation, the friends/foes's something I can't remember seeing in any other nation I've been to. I adored this show for its blurring of the lines - Coogan, let's face it, comes off as a complete cock, highlighting the sort of reputation the tabloid press have given him over the years - and a less vain actor would have baulked from doing it. Bryden is terrific, cheekily chipping away at the raw bone that is Coogan's ego.
    Thanks for writing about it!

  7. PS: The Killer Inside Me was anything but awful, IMO. Nine songs, on the other (presumably sticky) hand, however...

  8. Thanks for stopping by Colin. I was interested in The Trip after hearing positive feedback about it following it's screening at the SFF. I had no idea it was originally a six part tv series, but I had liked Coogan in what I had previously seen him in. This style of humour appeals to me, and while some of it definitely went over my head, it was frequently hilarious.I thought it weaved the drama of Coogan's crises into the story quite well too. I do feel it would have been even better in shorter installments, though.