Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Claire Keelan, Margo Stilley, Rebecca Johnson
There is no earthly reason why Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip should work, and several reasons why it shouldn’t. Remarkably, it does work. First of all, the film is a cut-down version of a BBC TV series, and with a concept that might not travel well. It consists of several days of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon driving around the North of England and eating at posh restaurants so that Coogan can write an article for The Observer. That doesn’t sound like much, but it turns out to be very entertaining and even surprisingly moving.
It should be noted that the film isn’t documentarian in nature. Neither Coogan nor Brydon are playing themselves—or not exactly. They are playing characters called Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, and are given their real backgrounds, histories, resumes etc. Plus, there’s no script, so they’re speaking in their own words. But it would be fairer to say that they’re here playing versions of themselves—with a good deal of dramatic license. This actually adds a level of interest, since it’s impossible to tell the real from the fictional. And for that matter, it’s hard to tell if either of them quite know where reality leaves off and fiction takes over. Right or wrong, it’s difficult to escape the sense that just perhaps they’re revealing considerably more truth than they realize or intend.
The set-up is played strictly for laughs. Coogan took this assignment at the urging of girlfriend Mischa (Margo Stilley), and it was supposed to be a romantic getaway. However, she bailed out, and no one else wants to go. So he’s reduced to asking Brydon. Brydon may or may not be Coogan’s best friend, but it’s clear that they don’t like each other all that much, and each finds the other aggravating. Coogan in particular finds Brydon’s apparent inability to not constantly do impressions exasperating. What makes this much worse is that Coogan is convinced that his own impressions of the same people—Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Richard Burton, Ian McKellen etc.—are superior to the ones he’s being subjected to. This, in fact, becomes the film’s running gag—and it’s one that works better than it sounds, much like the film overall.
There is, as you might guess, no plot beyond the situation, but what is most surprising is the way in which the film gets at the layers of insecurity beneath the surfaces of both men. (In this regard, I suspect the edited feature film may actually work better than the TV series it came from.) Both men are trying not to come to terms with the fact that they’re in their mid-40s, and are very likely as famous as they’re going to get. Coogan, in particular, still harbors leading-man notions and desires to be a serious actor, but realizes that these things probably aren’t going to happen. That Brydon at least seems more comfortable with this fact about himself only serves to make him that much more irritating to Coogan.
It’s the suggestion of this something more going on beneath the surface of the two characters that keeps The Trip from simply being a movie about bickering friends driving, eating and trying to one-up each other in terms of impressions. If that was all there is to the film, my guess is that The Trip would become tiresome very quickly—and I never once found it that. In fact, quite the opposite. Not Rated, but contains sexuality, language and drug use.