Savor Those Family Vacations

The Trip (June 10, 2011)     4.5/5

Directed by Michael Winterbottom (IFC Films)

The Trip, a British film edited together from the TV miniseries of the same title, is one of the finest movies about acting to come along in a good while.  Starring actors/comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as fictionalized versions of themselves, it is about the journey the two take when Coogan is asked by The Observer to do a tour of fancy restaurants in northern England.  On hiatus from his girlfriend, Mischa (Margo Stilley), Coogan reluctantly asks friend/rival Brydon to accompany him.  The result is an hour and 47-minute trip that instantly slaps a smile on your face.  The two drive, eat, talk, argue, drive somewhere else, eat again, and throughout the trip’s entire duration, get on each other’s nerves.  In the midst of this odd pilgrimage, they battle over who has the better Michael Cain impression, fight about who can do the more esteemed James Bond monologue, and throughout it all, ponder upon growing older and living with their sorry selves.

Coogan is never sure if wants to pursue his girlfriend once again, but he does know he wants more meaningful acting gigs.  Brydon, meanwhile, has a wife and child at home, and seems happy as can be.  People even recognize him in the streets!  It is both hilarious and sad to see how Coogan always attempts to deny that Brydon is the better actor, although he secretly knows it.  It is even more of a mixed bag to see how Brydon overuses his skills.  In almost every scene, even those when Rob is alone with his wife, he is hardly ever himself – he may be Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, or any other actor he can so precisely imitate.  Meanwhile, the most fascinating thing about Michael Winterbottom’s film may be how he accomplishes so much with so little.  In cinema vérité style, most of the movie is Steve and Rob going at it, intercut with food being prepared, and the two finally indulging themselves.

But as is exemplified by the comedians’ ignorance of their exquisite surroundings, there is so much more to The Trip than meets the eye.  Just like the food, life can be pretentious.  And to ignore this fact, as well as the oncoming of old age, Coogan and Brydon have never needed acting more badly.  It provides an escape from the daily imperfections that face every middle-aged adult.  But as previously mentioned, Coogan is nowhere near as good at it.  Not to say he isn’t a genuinely funny man, but he is unable to let his sense of humor compensate for his fears and regrets.  Coogan’s character was once a drug addict, and is still a womanizer.  He is unhappy, and wishes to reconnect with his son.  His inability to blend acting and real life into one, happy package is what makes him so human.  Ultimately, Steve is faced with the decision of whether he wants to go Brydon’s route, or find happiness through what the real world has to offer, rather than through simple wit and imagination, alone.

The journey is hysterical, the destination touching and thought-provoking.  However, it does seem as though The Trip would’ve worked better in its original, televised format.  The film is slightly overlong, yet it ends abruptly.  Some scenes are also structured awkwardly, never quite blending.  Luckily, the material more than makes up for these inadequacies.  The Trip is as delicious as the food looks, but probably doesn’t taste.  The attempts between Coogan and Brydan to one-up each other are consistently hysterical, and the impressions spot-on.  Much of it is instantly quotable.  At the end of the day, it’s as if someone has mixed Sideways, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and My Dinner with Andre into one unique concoction.  The result is tender and sweet, as well as bitingly humorous.  A full-course meal, plus dessert.


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