Edited together by director Michael Winterbottom from the 6-episode BBC comedy of the same name, The Trip stars Steve Coogan and frequent co-star and collaborator Rob Brydon as versions of themselves. When Coogan is hired by The Observer newspaper to take a trip through Northern England sampling the finest restaurants along the way, he envisions a romantic week impressing his American girlfriend, but he’s forced at the last minute to go instead for Plan B – friend and rival Brydon – when the girlfriend decides they need time apart. What follows is an episodic but hilarious road trip as the two odd-couple comedians see the sights, eat the food, discuss Coleridge, argue and compete with one another to see who can do the best impression of Michael Caine.

Funny as it is, and it’s definitely funny, what really drives The Trip is the deep current of melancholy and self-loathing that runs through Coogan’s character and quietly comes to the fore as the story goes along. He’s prickly from the very start, but it gradually becomes clear that he is a man filled with a quiet panic over his moribund career, his cratering romance and perhaps the cold fear that his life is turning out to be a disappointment. Through it all, he can never let down his guard, drop his sense of competition and reach out to his friend Brydon, the one man who probably understands him. Despite day after day of beautiful scenery and some of the best food in the country – all on someone else’s dime – Coogan can never just relax and enjoy himself.

Coogan is one of those comedians, unique almost to the British, who isn’t afraid to come across looking like a jerk. There’s a mean spiritedness to his humor, but it’s so obviously defensive and he so often winds up looking the uncomfortable fool that you feel sorry for him. Brydon on the other hand is his perfect compliment. While he’s openly competitive, he’s also always good natured. Brydon’s humor is softer and more gentle. If Coogan is a porcupine, then Brydon is a puppy and it’s this combination of opposites that gives The Trip a perfect comic balance.

The best parts of The Trip simply involve Coogan and Brydon riffing on their surroundings and on each other, each trying to one up the other with jokes and impressions. This is bone dry, improvisational comedy that feels like an inside joke, but one you’re in on. The story is loose and rambling and episodic, but it has a momentum and it finally works. What emerges is not just comedy, but a kind of sad character sketch of a man who should be enjoying the time of his life yet can’t. Coogan is a contradiction where the instincts that drive him to succeed also lead him toward self destruction.

So, is The Trip a comedy or is it a character drama? It turns out it’s both and it works surprisingly well. Hilarious throughout, there’s also an underlying edge that gets stronger as the story goes along. The laughs make it all go down easily, but it’s the final sting that sticks with you after it’s over.

The Trip. UK 2010 (US release 2011). Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Cinematography by Ben Smithard. Music by Michael Nyman. Edited by Mags Arnold and Paul Monaghan. Starring Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Claire Keelan, Margo Stilley, Rebecca Johnson, Dolya Gavans and Kerry Shale. 1 hour 47 minutes. Not rated by the MPAA. 4 stars (out of 5)

7 Responses to “The Trip (2011)”

  1. As you know Craig, this version you review here is the abridged one, edited down from the three hour plus television presentation in the UK that my colleague Allan Fish warns me is the essential way to view this work. He makes claim that the entire tone is different in the longer version, indeed it’s a completely different film in his eyes.

    In any case, I am holding the full version on a Region 2 DVD, one I’ve owned for several months, but have been unable to invest time in to this point. The question I have for you after reading this informative capsule piece is whether you would still advise a screening of this shorter version in the theatre, or whether the longer version on DVD is the way to go? I had a previous chance to see this shorter version last month at Tribeca, but I opted to take a pass.

  2. Yes, the first sentence of the review clarifies the fact this is edited from a 6-episode series.

    I’m not a completist snob like your friend Alan and I have no patience to wait around for this or that region DVD. Plus, this is a movie blog, not a TV blog.

    However the two versions may compare, the movie is terrific all by itself. I presume the series is simply a different sort of experience. My recommendation is for people to watch the movie now, as is, then enjoy the whole series sometime down the road when it is readily available.

  3. I can’t believe I missed what you said at the very start and even went back a second time to mak esure you didn’t make reference to it. My apologies on that. My eyes are doing tricks. Ugh.

    As you clearly assert that the film is quite good without those television embellishments, I will definitely watch it in that form very soon. At a later date when I have time, I’ll see what I can do in comparing, but I’m in no rush.

  4. lol Sam, I didn’t mean to bust your balls there. I know every sentence I type is not gold :)

    Since you already have the series in hand and since it benefits less from the big screen treatment than some things, you’d do well just to pop in a DVD and see how the first episode works for you.

    For anyone who doesn’t have the Region 2 DVD (or the means to play them), I’d definitely recommmend they watch now rather than wait. Since it’s IFC, I’d be surprised if it isn’t available on VOD or that it will be soon.

  5. Region coding is the DEVIL. Hate it.

    I am looking forward to seeing this when it opens here in a week. The trailer is hilarious. I’d like to see the original series at some point, if I enjoy the film, but I don’t really have the resources or patience to order DVD TV series sets from overseas. I already own way too many Blu-rays/DVDs I’ve barely watched as it is.

  6. I haven’t seen the full series, but plan to seek it out if I don’t have to jump through any hoops to get to it.

    This one isn’t going to appeal to anyone who doesn’t jibe with Coogan’s sour, self-loathing humor, but it’s right up my alley.

  7. I took a couple of deep breaths to adjust to Coogan’s character and am all the better for it — I liked this movie. While it’s not loaded with “message,” there’s a subtle but clear mind at work here apart from the constantly jabbering duo.

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