Directed by Michael Winterbottom
United Kingdom, 2010
What sets The Trip apart from other road movies or buddy comedies? The structure is the same as most. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, each playing a facsimile of himself, set off on a tour of southern England to sample the foods that each town has to offer. A trip that was originally to be Coogan and his girlfriend Mischa (Margo Stilley), Brydon is a last-minute addition after they decide to “take a break.”
Ostensibly a series of scenes at restaurants, conversations in cars and phone calls, The Trip was culled from prolific director Michael Winterbottom’s (24 Hour Party People, 9 Songs, The Road to Guantanamo) television series of the same name and the improvisatory appearance bears its origins out.
Winterbottom is wise to let Brydon and Coogan play off of one-another, at times using their actual lives as material: Brydon’s “Small Man Trapped in a Box” and Coogan’s Alan Partridge character.
Some of the funniest scenes are when Coogan and Brydon are let loose to try to one up one-another with their imitations (Michael Caine and Woody Allen being particularly funny) and with their random, absurd senses of humor. Probably the best scene in the film is when they escalate wacky iterations of a classic war dialogue trope, “Gentlemen, to bed. For tomorrow we rise at dawn.”
The surprising thing about The Trip, and what makes it closer to a similarly constructed film like Scarecrow than to an easier, more carefree road film, is the air of sadness that surrounds it. Coogan is in his mid-40s. He wants to be in “dramatic films” and “arthouse films,” not television shows. He’s reluctant to be remembered as the iconic Alan Partridge. The split with Mischa, the struggle for and against celebrity and his role as a father are what really drive the emotional narrative.
Winterbottom does well to frequently focus on Brydon’s happy relationship with his wife and newborn child, and the resulting contrast with Coogan’s situation makes The Trip more poignant and richer.
There’s little plot to follow, or mystery to be solved. We watch The Trip not to find out if Coogan and Mischa will reunite, but because it’s a fascinating, hilarious and melancholy look at fame and one’s sense of self.