The Trip (Revolution Films, unrated)

The Trip is a road movie, and the dialogue—jokes, impressions, conquests, and male camaraderie—all have to be dealt with. What is impressive is how much Winterbottom is able to accomplish with this lengthy agenda.

 

We live in an era when every B-movie star has a reality TV show and we know every intimate detail of the inner workings of star. As such, it is easy to forget that the tradition of fictionalized reality, with equal amounts of false personalities, goes back as far as the history of film itself. In the ’40s and ’50s Bob Hope and Bing Crosby found themselves cast repeatedly as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, sent out to some foreign land where Hope could chase the local tail and Crosby could croon a song or two. TV’s Ricky and Lucy Ricardo were career-making characters for the real husband and wife team of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Ball’s real pregnancy and birth were a national event, as the star and her character had a child all the country wanted to see. Jack Benny invited viewers nationwide into his Southern California home along with many famous Hollywood stars—all, in some way, playing an idealized version of themselves. In the ’80s, the late Peter Falk played Peter Falk starring in a movie in Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire.

Entering this tradition are the characters Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in the movie The Trip, directed by Michael Winterbottom. The Trip tells the story of Coogan and Brydon taking a weeklong drive to Northern England on a restaurant tour that Coogan is supposed to write up for the Observer. He had originally planned on bringing his girlfriend, but she “needed space” so Coogan, after apparently being turned down by several other friends, calls Brydon, who agrees to leave his wife and young child to accompany his friend on this journey.

Coogan and Brydon the real people versus Coogan and Brydon the fictionalized characters in this film are share a fairly similar history. Both are very well established stars in the United Kingdom. Coogan really did start out in comedy and made a name for himself playing various characters, one of whom, Alan Partridge, entered the British consciousness and became established enough so that he, not Coogan, appears at various functions. Coogan went on to star in a series of movies which did modestly well, but is most famous for being difficult, which has since—like Benny’s stinginess or Lucy’s wackiness—become part of his comic persona. He also did give Brydon his first big break, and Brydon went on to have more popular stardom, in a way eclipsing Coogan in their native England. The characters on the screen play off the very real history the actors share, and it is the source of some hidden tension and a very real competiveness.

Coogan made 24 Hour Party People with Winterbottom in 2002, playing Tony Wilson of Factory Records fame. Winterbottom next brought him in to play the lead in A Cock and Bull Story, which was the film adaptation of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. As with The Trip, Coogan and Brydon play themselves, or at least characters of themselves: Coogan as a self-involved megalomaniac who sees himself as the underappreciated talent, and massages his ego with younger women and pleas for attention; Brydon, meanwhile, is the comic impressionist who never met a situation that doesn’t call for an impression.

Much of the dialogue in The Trip (which is based on a BBC TV show from last year, also starring Coogan and Brydon) appears ad-libbed, especially when you consider how much is the two comedians jousting or trying to outdo each other with impressions of Michael Caine. These parts offer many of the film’s best laughs, as witty repartee abounds. You will also find yourself reaching for the Abba Gold collection after the two discuss, at length, “The Winner Takes it All.”

The Trip might be a bit too ambitious, however, in that it is trying to accomplish several things at once. It does, in fact, try to be a food documentary, offering loving shots of food being prepared and served. (They seem to eat a lot of scallops in the North of England.) It also offers commentary on the aging process and what truly qualifies as success, as well as what legacy we will leave behind. Winterbottom contrasts Coogan, who seems to be in the netherworld of career success, with Brydon, who has found personal happiness with a wife and child, thereby making him more content with his career, as it were. Finally, though, The Trip is a road movie, and the dialogue—jokes, impressions, conquests, and male camaraderie—all have to be dealt with. What is impressive is how much Winterbottom is able to accomplish with this lengthy agenda. In the end, there was more than a slight desire to see the trip extended.

The Trip offers multiple stories for us to follow, and it hangs those stories around the shoulders of two very real fictionalized characters. You may view Coogan and Brydon as both being very charming and, therefore, let them make you care about what happens over the course of their week’s adventure. However, if you tire of them after their third go-round of impressions of famed actors, then you may find The Trip to be a misguided adventure that has you longing for Hope and Crosby on camel-back. | Jim Dunn

 

About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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