The Trip

So, Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden take a trip and they make a movie out of it.

Wait, who and who do what and why?

If you’re like me (and I know I am), you barely know who Steve Coogan is and have no clue at all about Bryden. Well, if you’re like me five years ago, anyway, when Steve Coogan teamed up with Michael Winterbottom to make Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. And, really, if you’ve seen that movie, you’ve practically seen this one, too, even though the stories are completely different.

I liked Shandy, but I wouldn’t recommend it for most Americans. It’s extremely British and extremely focused on the art and business of cinema. On top of that, it’s roughly based on the very fractured narrative of Tristram Shandy, upon which they laid the narrative of Coogan—a vain, self-important actor who feels the world hasn’t rewarded his talent appropriately. (Who manages, both because and despite, to be endearing in his frailties.)

I had a hard time interesting my British somewhat successful actress friend in it, you know?

The Trip is a similar movie, smaller scale, primarily involving Coogan and Bryden travelling into northern England doing restaurant reviews for a British magazine. The set-up is that Coogan arranged the jaunt to get cozier with his American girlfriend (Margo Stilley) but she bails on him beforehand and Bryden is at the bottom of a long list of people who refused to go with him.

So, we have a buddy/road movie, where the buddies aren’t very buddy-buddy, and since it’s England, there’s actually not all that much road.

Bryden and Coogan have a tension: Coogan wants to be appreciated for his greatness, and he’s genuinely unhappy for not receiving this appreciation. Bryden, on the other hand, is quite happy with his modest success which is vaguely galling for Coogan—but worse, seems to be able to compete (and beat) Coogan in the little competitions they have.

The comedy largely comes from the form these competitions take: primarily impressions of Michael Caine,  Richard Burton, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro—and mostly Michael Caine. Also, while Bryden pines over his wife (they have goofy phone sex), Coogan beds a series of different women while trying to win back his girlfriend and connect with his son.

The dramatic tension, in a big way, comes from the fact that Coogan is 45. He had a huge success in his late 20s that never materialized into the kind of success he wanted as a serious actor (he’s jealous of Michael Sheen), he’s divorced and his girlfriend has moved back to America, and he’s being offered a 7-year gig in California for an HBO show—possibly the “big break” he’s always wanted.

The characterization is developed through little vignettes, such as Bryden asking whether Coogan would trade his children’s health for his own success. Of course not, right? But then, Bryden phrases it more as, “Would you, for a best actor Oscar, allow your child to suffer a minor, temporary illness?” As the old saw goes, “Now, we’re just haggling on price.”

Of course, for all his flaws, Coogan comes off rather endearing. He has a self-awareness that makes the movie possible, and at the same time isn’t used to mitigate or flinch from said flaws.

Once again, I liked it. But I wouldn’t recommend it to many people. The Boy enjoyed parts but felt it went on too long—at the same time he missed bunches of the references and has little awareness of British culture. There is a dramatic arc to the film, but it’s very low key.

Also, this is a middle-aged man movie made by middle-aged men. So, you know. Not exactly the target audience.

Acclaimed director Michael Winterbottom reminds of a sort of British Christopher Guest, in the sense that this feels a bit like a mockumentary in the vein of A Mighty Wind or Best In Show, with lots and lots of improvised footage being shot and then edited. Except Winterbottom is way more serious, doesn’t cut nearly as much away, and got his start with the pornographic 9 Songs (featuring the same Ms. Stilley).

You probably know, sight-unseen, whether this is your sort of movie. But if you’re a bit of an anglophile, a bit of a cinema geek, and not looking for an adrenaline-fueled high-octane rush, you might enjoy this for an hour-and-a-half.

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