Equal parts gastronomical adventure, comedic two-hander and contemplative, The Trip proves that life is not necessarily about the destination but the journey.
One thing that Michael Winterbottom can never be accused of is repeating himself. From period adaptations like Jude (1995), through futuristic romantic mystery Code 46 (2003) and the hardcore sexuality of 9 Songs (2004), Winterbottom has been at his most appealing when working with comedians and friends Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Whether playing iconic music producer in 24 Hour Party People (2002), or versions of themselves in Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2006), through Winterbottom’s films it has almost become impossible to separate the men from the myth.
Attempting to impress his American girlfriend Mischa (Margo Stilley), Steve Coogan agrees to participate in a restaurant tour of the north of England for The Observer newspaper. However, their relationship hits a bit of a snag, and Coogan convinces friend and colleague Rob Brydon to leave his wife and newborn baby for a week in the country. Musing on their careers, fears and simply trying to make each other laugh, the film follows the duo as they exchange witty banter over a course or two.
The irresistible and highly watchable Coogan and Brydon are always terrific individually, but there is a certain magic that happens when these long-time collaborators come together on a project. Gaining most of their attention on the small screen, with their most successful cinematic projects those completed with Michael Winterbottom, it comes as no surprise that he joined them once again for a partly improvisational comedy outing under Coogan’s Baby Cow Productions banner.
For anybody else, the edited and scattered recordings of two often acerbic, but always funny, British blokes as they travel The North sampling fancy food and riffing impersonations of Michael “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off” Caine could be potentially wearing. It is one thing to sample them in bite-sized television episodes, but a sustained couple of hours of dueling-Caines could teeter on the painful. Fortunately, the only ailment that this may cause are the sharp pangs from the side-splittingly funny moments that roll in one after the other.
Building on the banter that formed a second story in Tristram Shandy: A Cock And Bull Story, Brydon and Coogan are akin to an old married couple in their fictional portrayal on themselves. Bickering over small details, dissecting each others lives and generally trying to make each other laugh, one suspects that the line between fiction and fact is somewhat blurred in this mockumentary/satire of their own public personas.
What is most surprising is the sheer amount of pathos that the film elicits, mostly through Coogan’s character. In a somewhat knowing move, Coogan complains of not being offered many dramatic roles while one his finest non-comedic portrayals slowly carves itself into the narrative. Cleverly masked in food and funnies, and contrasting the domestic bliss of Brydon with the solitary success of Coogan, The Trip muses on the importance of companionship and external factors in one’s own happiness. Perhaps the only regret one will feel in watching the film is in wanting to spend more time with the duo, a luxury afforded by the home DVD releases of the complete series.
The Trip is released on June 30, 2011 in Australia by Madman Entertainment.