Director: Michael Winterbottom
Runtime: 107 mins.
Australian release date: 30 June 2011
Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip is an improvised road journey which reunites the director and the British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, following their previous successes with A Cock And Bull Story and 24 Hour Party People. In this case it is a fictional story about two friends who are polar opposites, one comfortable in his skin and one at odds with himself, but it’s fiction dressed up as documentary as it delves into their mid-life crises as middle-age beckons.
Coogan plans to take his American girlfriend, Mischa (Margo Stilley), on a foodie trip around the North of England, a visual and culinary feast through the Lake District, Lancashire and the Yorkshire Dales, wanting her to accompany him while he reviews half-a-dozen up-market restaurants - the sort that drizzle their sauces on large white plates. However, Mischa has returned to the US and Coogan reluctantly asks Brydon to take her place, admitting that Brydon was way down his list!
The culinary delights act as a backdrop to their conversations. Does Brydon holds his utensils the wrong way round in an attempt to focus the attention on him? I wondered if this was intentional, as the two men spend most of their time sparring about their opinions on life and their lot and, although obviously good mates, there is a competitive streak that makes each vie for holding court.
Brydon seems to be at ease and comes across as a happily married man, who is really quite comfortable with his lot. On the other hand, Coogan is constantly analyzing his. He is quite neurotic and does not have the same emotional attachments as his mate. There is a terrific scene where he reveals his vulnerability and his almost over-the-top passion for Abba’s song, ‘The Winner Takes It All,’ which brings him to tears when he and Brydon sing it while driving along a bleak British highway.
Winterbottom gave his actors a subject and they just improvised, riffing on the topic provided. The performers are incredibly brave because they blend the real with the false so cleverly it’s hard to tell where their real lives and their characters’ begin and end. The end result is a very funny film that revels in acerbic wit. Both Coogan and Brydon share their comedic impersonations of some of the great, dare I say, older actors, including Al Pacino, Sean Connery and Michael Caine. The latter provides a competitive rant that is hilarious and Brydon is able to slip in the fact that his rendition was described as the best when interviewed by a critic for the Observer.
The Trip has been condensed from a six-part television series for the BBC. There are mixed opinions as to whether the series warranted a feature-film version and some reviewers maintain that the series far excels the film version. This, of course, is personal. Certainly, though, Winterbottom has succeeded in taking us on a romp through the English countryside that is often laugh-out-loud and that’s worth the ride.