If you fancy journeying through the north of England with the likes of Richard Burton, Michael Caine and Sean Connery, hop onboard for “The Trip.”
If you fancy journeying through the north of England with the likes of Richard Burton, Michael Caine and Sean Connery, hop onboard for “The Trip.” It’s a memorable excursion down the highways and back alleys of the lives of a pair of British comedians standing at the crossroads of middle age.
You’ve probably never heard of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, which is sort of the central joke of a largely improvised story about two marginal actors scrambling for the crumbs of fame, as father time lets the air out of their big dreams and swollen egos. It’s incredibly poignant, but it’s also quite funny thanks to Coogan and Brydon, who reprise their neurotic, insecure characters from the art-house hit “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.”
Like that 2006 film, Coogan and Brydon portray slightly exaggerated versions of themselves while providing intriguing glimpses inside the minds of adversarial amigos determined to always one-up the other, whether it’s having the best room at a rustic inn or an impromptu battle to determine who does the best impersonations of UK icons like Connery and Caine.
In that respect, it’s a textbook breakdown of the jealousies and competitiveness that are so much a part of male relationships, a subliminal combativeness exacerbated by the tangential nature of their personalities. Coogan, the alpha dog, is cocky, aggressive and suspicious, while Brydon, the domesticated homebody, is jolly, good-natured and optimistic. Yet they share the same goal of being the best clown they can be.
The most telling point about their personalities, though, is the price each is willing to pay to achieve superstardom, as illustrated in a hilariously deadpan scene in which Brydon quizzes Coogan on whether he would be willing to sacrifice his teenaged son’s health in a hypothetical Faustian bargain if it would mean winning an Oscar. OK, father of the year he’s not. He’s not much of an ex-husband, either. Heck, he can barely hold on to his current girlfriend, a glamorous young American named Mischa (Margo Stilley), whom he humorously struggles to make contact with during the trip due to poor cellphone reception in the English countryside.
It’s the couple’s recent “temporary separation” that necessitates Brydon being called upon to fill in for her on Coogan’s trip to review the finest restaurants in the North for a magazine article he’s writing for The Observer. A substitution that only makes Coogan more resentful that he’s stuck driving through some of the most scenic landscapes on Earth with a hackneyed voice impersonator (he gives great Burton, Hopkins, Connery, Caine and Woody, with a little Hugh Grant thrown in) instead of his beautiful, sexy Mischa.
It also doesn’t help hearing Brydon constantly bragging about how content he is having a loving wife and an infant daughter to come home to every night. And the nights when he can’t be home, he engages the missis in some of the funniest phone sex this side of Anthony Weiner.
Yes, they’re complete opposites, but you love how they attract, as Coogan and Brydon generate a gravitational pull that effortlessly sucks you into their off-kilter orbit. And the air up there is intoxicating, as you feel yourself getting high on the almost non-stop humor generated through their mercilessly pushing each other’s buttons.
In many ways, the script, which was shaped by Coogan, Brydon and their returning “Tristram Shandy” director Michael Winterbottom, resembles that American classic “Sideways,” in which two diametrically opposed friends tour the Santa Barbara wine country. The interactions aren’t quite as rich or perceptive, but I dare say they are every bit as funny.
A lot of that can be chalked up to the sizzling chemistry Coogan and Brydon generate during their bantering about the various ins and outs of love, family and show biz. While their observations are always witty, they’re also very truthful and highly affecting. Heck, half the time you aren’t sure if the tears are from laughing or crying.
Not only do they provide sustenance for people starving for intelligent comedy, they, and the movie, also whet our appetites for food, glorious food, served up in tiny, aesthetically pleasing shapes on plate after plate at such diverse locations as the staid Inn at Whitehill in Lancashire and the sunny, outdoor charms of the Angel at Hetton in North Yorkshire. Director of photography Ben Smithard gets you up close and personal with both the preparation and consumption of each scrumptious-looking dish. You can practically smell and taste them.
But not a one of those entrees or desserts is as delicious as devouring heaping helpings of Coogan and Brydon, a couple of hams served up with just the right blend of vinegar and spice to tantalize even the most discriminating palate. I promise, you’ll savor every bite.
Reach Al Alexander at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE TRIP (Not rated.) Cast includes Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. 3.5 stars out of 4.