Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Trip

In 2006, Michael Winterbottom's A Cock and Bull Story was released which starred Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. It featured the actors playing two exaggerated versions of themselves as they tried to adapt Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne into a film. The end result was pleasantly hilarious and I rank it as my favorite film by Winterbottom (the prolific director of films ranging from 24-Hour Party People to A Mighty Heart).

The Trip is an informal follow-up of sorts. Coogan and Brydon return as their quarreling personalities in which Coogan is tasked by a magazine to go on a road trip to visit ten restaurants in England. He originally wanted to go with his girlfriend, but they had a semi-break-up. So Coogan ends up asking Brydon to accompany him and the result is something along the lines of My Dinner with Andre... only with a lot more one-upping and impressions of famous actors that includes Michael Caine, Ian McKellen, Sean Connery, Woody Allen, Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, Richard Burton, Roger Moore, and Dustin Hoffman.

It should be noted that this film is a complete work of improvisation and is actually an edited-down version of the BBC miniseries (the film is 107 minutes while the miniseries was about 180 minutes and last I checked it isn't available on DVD in the U.S.). This film was an interesting experience for me as what I what I expected was completely different from what I ended up viewing. I should first state that I'm not crazy about what has been deemed as "British-humor" aside from some notable exceptions (the works of guys like Ricky Gervais and Edgar Wright or films like Four Lions and In the Loop). The film isn't a constant laugh riot, but everything is more tongue-in-cheek and naturally subtle.

It is even surprisingly dramatic at points. Coogan's character wants something more special out of his life and in a certain sense, when the film ends, we leave him in a pretty tragic state (or at least in a place I wouldn't want to be left in). The nature of the ending and of the whole film in general, led me to take a second look at the story with a different perspective. It really is a two-man character study. It shows us what it is like to make a living playing and impersonating people that you aren't. The film shows two sides of the same coin in that Coogan and Brydon love what they do, but it takes a different toll on their private lives. Just look at how Coogan is estranged from his son and girlfriend while Brydon comes home to a loving wife and a young infant child that he loves.

So yes, although the film was not as zany as I might have hoped, it was quite enjoyable in a very pleasing and unexpected way. Although, I should be clear- I don't mean to undermine the fact that the film certainly has some very humorous moments, especially with the impressions. In fact I've been watching a ton of clips on Youtube of Coogan as Alan Partridge and Brydon doing impressions for the last hour. Thanks to the skillful direction and style of Winterbottom and the talent of these two performers, The Trip has quickly jumped to the top of my favorites list for the year.

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