Length: 107 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Age Appropriate for: 17+. Profanity is regular but not pervasive, and contains regular f-words and a particularly jarring c-word. But it’s the casual drug use that will make this a tough sell for parents.
Eat, Drink and Be Testy
Two British funnymen get on the road and one another’s nerves
by Jared Peterson
In The Trip, British comic actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon travel through the English countryside, sharing excellent meals and wry, stinging banter and revealing something of the factors that motivate funny people. The Coogan and Brydon we meet in the film are (perhaps only slightly) exaggerated versions of themselves. Coogan is by any measure a huge deal in Britain—a star of the stature of a Jerry Seinfeld (and the sour demeanor of a Larry David) who rose to prominence in the early ‘90s playing a self-important talk show host called Alan Partridge. Since then, he has remained in the spotlight by periodically reviving the character, and by engaging in various tabloid shenanigans—multiple, high-profile relationships and their ensuing implosions as well as cycles of addiction, rehab and relapse.
Coogan is tapped by a magazine to review a series of restaurants in the Lake District and Yorkshire Highlands in the north of England. Since he and his weary girlfriend Mischa (Margo Stilley) are on the rocks these days, he’s forced to scroll far down a list of traveling companions. At the bottom of that list is Rob Brydon, a Welsh comic who has appeared with Coogan in several films and who is famous in his own right as a comedian and impressionist.
The two go from town to town, sampling the fine hotels and fancy meals. Coogan, meanwhile, reverts to some of his old ways, helping himself to various pharmacopeia and effortlessly seducing more than one raven-haired beauty. But the film’s focus remains the dinner-table sparing matches in which these two talents take great pains to curb each other’s enthusiasm. They trade dueling impersonations of famous actors like Michael Caine, Sean Connery and Woody Allen in a constant struggle to outdo one another. They point out one another’s faults and foibles—sometimes playfully, sometimes not. They work with and off one another, often in service of perfecting a shared comic bit—as in a scene where they spend the drive between towns riffing on the conventions of medieval war films (“Gentlemen, to bed! For tomorrow we rise… at 10ish!”).
The scenes of banter and comic one-upmanship are entertaining and deeply satisfying. The settings—quiet, day-lit corners of fine restaurants; hikes and drives through the stunning North English landscapes—are also lovely, and they provide a moody backdrop that draws the viewer in and accentuates some of Coogan’s private pain. This, after all, is the land that inspired the romantic reflections of Wordsworth and Coleridge. In fact, Brydon can’t help but point out, with both bemusement and concern, the parallels between Coogan and the troubled Coleridge—the early rise to fame, the creative turmoil and drug abuse, the disconnection from family. Brydon proves an excellent foil to Coogan: equally talented, far more stable, but with his own personal quirks and weaknesses—his drive to work impressions into his every conversation borders on the pathological. The two, despite their bickering and competitiveness, are clearly good friends and good for each other.
In the end, The Trip is an interesting sort of date-movie/road-movie hybrid. The film is all talk, to be sure, but its rapier wit and relative quiet bring the viewer into a subtle personal drama. It could be a nice date night movie—pre-dinner, I’d suggest, as the food looks fantastic. Meanwhile, Anglophiles, Pythonites and fans of Coogan’s various Alan Partridge projects will surely want to see The Trip for both its comic virtuosity and its arcane glimpses behind the mask of an infamous persona.