Where to begin with Michael Winterbottom‘s The Trip? It’s a film I’m almost certain I liked, but I’ll be damned if I can think why that would be. The humour is very British indeed – not a problem for yours truly, as I grew up there. Other Europeans will, I think, either love or hate it. It’s also shot through with patches of sullen introspection, bitter jealousy and what appears to be the kind of petty bickering you’d be hard pushed to find outside a long-term relationship.
So far, so British. Of course, the stars of this basically two-handed production, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, are not only accomplished stand-up comics in their own right but hugely successful TV and film actors. To say they are household names in the UK would be risking understatement. Herein lies the rub; how much can we infer about the life of a comedian and how he interacts with his peers? We can’t expect them to be side-splittingly funny in every aspect of their lives, it’s a job like any other. Even though they essentially play themselves, it’s the portrayal of at least one of the characters as a sad, bitter and downright miserable guy who can, by turns, be something of a bastard that unsettles the viewer used to his larger-than-life characterizations. The problem of life imitating art, or not, is compounded when you know that the pair are friends in real life too. They know each other too well by now, it can’t just be a flight of their imagination, can it?
This is not so much a movie as an agglomeration of ‘best of’ parts from the cult(ish) TV series plus some new material to make it hang together. The jury is still out on whether this was accomplished with any degree of success or not. It can feel a bit ‘spotty’ but overall the story is fairly linear and undemanding to those who have never seen the TV shows.
The premise is simple. Coogan had been asked by the Sunday newspaper The Observer to visit several Michelin-starred restaurants in England and to write a review of each. Coogan sees this as an ideal opportunity to show his lady friend a good time and to work on their somewhat patchy relationship. Comedy being no good without tragedy his (unseen) girlfriend lets him down due to work commitments in the US and he is at somewhat of a loose end. The usual A-list, preferred group of showbiz chums are all unexpectedly busy or otherwise unavailable, so he ends up falling back on his old friend Rob. When you see how their relationship has developed, you’d be forgiven for wondering what the hell they see in each other. Apart from a penchant for dwelling on minor details, they are as different as the proverbial chalk and cheese. Steve is a narcissistic ne’er-do-well, a bit of a ladies man and all-round man-about-town. Rob is in a happy, secure relationship with his wife and has a young daughter he dotes on. While Steve goes out looking for some extra-relational conquering, Rob’s idea of bedroom activity is to be cosily tucked beneath the duvet engaging in one of his – very funny – late-night chats with his wife.
These differences are what makes the story hang together so well but without ever overshadowing the delicious food and delightful dialogue. True, it can be slow to the point of monotony at times but this is often the calm before the storm. the set pieces the pair engage in over dinner and in the car between hotels often border on seemingly unfettered brilliance. If you can take the rough with the smooth, the whole is by and large greater than the sum of its parts. A review could not do the gags or set pieces justice, so this review isn’t even going to try. If you like good comedy, food porn and the beauty of the English countryside, this may well be for you. You know what? I didn’t know why I liked The Trip at the beginning of this review. I think I may have just answered my own question.