Michael Winterbottom is a filmmaker who likes to play with genre and in two notable films he has explored notions of reality and truth; 2002’s 24 Hour Party People and 2005’s A Cock and Bull Story (titled Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story in Australia). These films, which ripped through the fourth wall, also have another common factor- Steve Coogan. In The Trip, Coogan and Winterbottom are once again collaborating and again they have brought Welsh comedian Rob Brydon along for the ride, and once again Coogan and Brydon are playing exaggerated versions of themselves. A BAFTA award-winning TV series in the UK, The Trip has been edited and condensed for a cinematic release in America and Australia.
The film follows Coogan and Brydon as they travel to the Lake District, in the North West of England, and undertake a gourmet food tour on assignment for a Sunday newspaper food supplement. But this is no documentary, part road-trip, part buddy movie, the two British comedians spend most of the film trying to outdo each others’ impressions of Anthony Hopkins and Sean Connery.
An awareness of who these actors are and their previous work is necessary to really enjoy this film (listen out for the musical cues from 24 Hour Party People). Playing off their public personas the actors are brave to open themselves up, with age and careers discussed and comically mused over. Coogan is especially game with his love-life and failure to crack the US market played for laughs. The competitiveness between the pair (which was also featured in A Cock and Bull Story) talks to the ego of the performer, and Coogan’s bored expressions as Brydon pulls out party-piece after party-piece are worth the ticket admission alone.
Playing with more pathos than expected, the film shows Coogan to be a man unhappy with his lot, unsure of how to balance his personal life and his ambitions. Brydon in contrast is shown to be a bit of a happy fool, who perhaps is the wiser for placing more importance on human relationships than work. The juxtaposition of these two men and how they approach the trip and the people they encounter is often amusing and just as frequently sad.
The film does suffer in places from repetition and the constant impressions do become a little grating (somewhat intentionally if we look at it from the perspective of Coogan’s character). While the shorter instalments of the TV series may have negated these factors, Australian fans of British comedy, particularly Coogan and Brydon’s brand of humour should definitely try and seek this film out. The Trip is a very funny film about friendship that has a surprisingly touching twist in its tail.
The Trip is released in Australia on June 30th
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Claire Keelan, Margo Stilley
Images provided by Madman