The Trip (Director: Michael Winterbottom): Hastily edited down from its original form as a six-episode television series made for the BBC, Michael Winterbottom’s latest collaboration with Coogan and Brydon is a great showcase for their improvisational talent, but the plot feels tacked on and is ultimately unnecessary.
Last at TIFF together in 2005 with Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, the trio clearly love working together. Winterbottom admitted that essentially all of the dialogue was improvised. He had been looking for a way to work together with friends Coogan and Brydon and came up with the idea of them having a series of lunches together. So he cast Coogan as “Steve Coogan,” a slightly outsized version of himself who receives a magazine assignment to conduct a culinary tour of the north of England, writing about his restaurant experiences as he goes. When his American girlfriend suddenly returns to the US for work and their relationship goes on hiatus, he turns to Brydon to accompany him. Rob Brydon, whose career has never reached the starry heights of Coogan’s, has a cosy domestic life with his wife and new baby, and seems content with his status as a mid-level celebrity. Coogan, who experienced early fame as TV chat host Alan Partridge, has been chasing the high of that success ever since. So as we get lovely shots of the countryside, and the pair are accomodated in swanky inns, Coogan paces the moors trying to find a cellphone signal so he can call his absent girlfriend or one of his agents. Brydon, meanwhile, uses the hotel phone to crack wise and talk dirty with his beloved wife.
These bits are amusing, but Coogan and Brydon have been playing these versions of themselves as far back as 2002’s TV movie Cruise of the Gods, so it kind of gets tiresome quickly. Yes, yes, Coogan is more famous and lives a jet-set life. Brydon has everyman charm. The real enjoyment of The Trip is watching the two play off of each other during their conversations. Their attempts to one-up each other are hysterical, especially when it comes to doing impressions of everyone from Michael Caine to Woody Allen. And the subtle dynamics between them perfectly capture the uncertainties of male friendships, from the fear of being seen as a gay couple to underestimating the value of each other’s friendship. Almost every moment between them is hilarious, which in the end shows how strong their bond is, even when they’re uncomfortable sharing their feelings about each other.
All of which makes the plot even more superfluous. Numerous shots of gourmet food and kitchens and cooking add practically nothing to the film. The beautiful scenery of Yorkshire and the Lake District, while giving the film visual appeal on the big screen, contribute very little to the essence of the film. The ending, which consists of nothing more than cutting between Brydon’s domestic bliss and Coogan’s posh but empty lifestyle, was melodrama piled on thick. There really was no need to attempt to make this anything other than the superb buddy comedy at its heart. The rest feels artificially tacked on and is ultimately distracting.
Here is the Q&A with director Michael Winterbottom and stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon from after the screening.