Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Stars: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon.
Not to be confused with the 1967 Roger Corman drama starring Peter Fonda, The Trip is the latest film from the prolific but eclectic British director Michael Winterbottom (Genova, Road To Guantanamo, 9 Songs, etc). A faux documentary, The Trip is part road movie, part travelogue and part buddy comedy that follows Steve Coogan on a trip through northern England’s Lakes District.
Coogan, who is basically playing a slightly fictionalised and flawed version of himself, has been hired by British newspaper The Guardian to review a number of northern county restaurants for their food guide supplement. But when his American girlfriend declines his offer to accompany him, Coogan turns to his good friend Welsh comic Rob Brydon (who appeared with him in Winterbottom’s Tristram Shandy). What follows is like eavesdropping on a couple of close mates on holiday. Brydon is fairly easy going and extroverted, while Coogan is more melancholy, narcissistic and brooding and undergoing something of a mid-life crisis.
Much of the dialogue between the pair is improvised, and the whole film has the feeling of being made up as it goes on. During the course of 100 minutes we get the pair conversing, criticising their meals, and engaging in duelling Michael Caine impressions. They also do impressions of Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Woody Allen, Sean Connery, Al Pacino and Hugh Grant, and these provide the movie with its comic highlights. The rustic restaurants and their mouth watering culinary creations merely serve as a backdrop for a series of comic improvisations.
This seemingly unstructured approach is a hallmark of many of Winterbottom’s movies. The Trip is light-weight fare, and a change of pace, especially following on from last year’s bleak and violent crime noir thriller The Killer Inside Me. Winterbottom’s attempts to add a bit of emotional drama to the material through charting the break-up of Coogan’s relationship with his American girl friend and his attempts at relating to his estranged son are an unwelcome distraction, and these scenes don’t entirely work. There’s a brief visit to Coogan’s (fictional) parents that offers little. And there’s also a dream sequence featuring Ben Stiller that doesn’t work. Coogan has worked with Winterbottom on two previous occasions (Tristram Shandy, 24 Hour Party People) and the pair have developed a wonderful working relationship. Ben Smithard’s cinematography is also very good, and captures the idyllic beauty of the countryside.
The film has actually been re-edited down from its original largely improvised 6-part British television series, so much of its flavour and atmosphere has been sacrificed. The Trip is a bit of fun, but some of it starts to become repetitive. There is some palpable chemistry between Coogan and Brydon that adds to the dynamics of the film, but it’s hardly enough to save it altogether.
Fans of Coogan (who is probably best known for playing Alan Partridge on television) and Brydon will enjoy this slight and occasionally very funny film. Everyone else may find it a bit dull. Not even the glimpses of the sumptuous meals is enough to save The Trip and make it worthwhile accompanying this bickering pair.