The recent trend in comedy has involved stars playing fictional versions of themselves, probably best exemplified by Larry David in the HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm. Sometimes it feels like this style is used to show off how many other celebrities these stars are friends with and to demonstrate that they are “just like us.” But they’re not. We know it. They know it.
In Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip, which premiered last summer at the Toronto International Film Festival, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon take a journey of culinary exploration in the north of England, Coogan’s home country.
Steve Coogan is probably best known to American audiences as the director Damien Cockburn in Tropic Thunder. In the UK, however, Coogan is a much bigger star, having created Knowing Me, Knowing You with Allen Partridge, I’m Allen Partridge and Saxondale. Audiences across the pond know him for generating memorable, often repulsive characters that continually dig themselves into deeper holes through their abhorrent behavior and sexual kinks.
In The Trip, Coogan plays a version of himself in a mid-career malaise, stuck between his past successes and his ambition to break into the American market. He portrays himself as a womanizer and a vain depressive, perpetually unhappy with his lot in life.
Coogan is complimented by Rob Brydon, a vocal chameleon who has fashioned a career out of his quick wit and seemingly endless list of celebrity impressions. Although he has not enjoyed the success of Coogan, he is much happier. He spends his time appearing on celebrity panel shows and doing stand-up comedy.
This background information is necessary to fully appreciate The Trip. There are many inside jokes, references to each other’s careers and British pop culture allusions that may prevent the casual American viewer from completely enjoying the film.
The Trip depends entirely on the viewer liking these two characters and enjoying their company. Throughout most of the film, Coogan and Brydon talk about aging, love and family. It plays out like a fragmented, post-modern take on My Dinner With Andre and suffers, like most road movies suffer, from a rambling, meandering pace that is doubly amplified because the protagonists are going in a circle.
That said, this is still a very funny movie. Most of the film takes place in the various restaurants and hotels, with just Coogan and Brydon ribbing each other and breaking out their various impressions and sound effects. There is a humorous exchange debating who has the stronger Michael Caine impression, in which both argue in character as Michael Caine.
This movie is cut down from the original six-part series done by BBC. Michael Winterbottom, the film’s director, is probably one of the more unconventional directors working today, and this is not the first time he has worked with Coogan and Brydon playing themselves (Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story).
Winterbottom is able to capture the stark beauty of northern England, the long, rolling moors and snow-capped peaks, a part of the county not often seen in the London-centric films that make it over to this side of the Atlantic.
Most of the humor of this movie comes from Brydon and Coogan riffing off each other, pretending to be Michael Caine or Sean Connery or Al Pacino. They are men trapped between friendship and hatred, and they are perfect for each other. This is a daring, endearing and hilarious film well worth a trip to see it in theatres this June.]]>