film review: THE TRIP

Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Produced by Andrew Eaton & Melissa Parmenter
Released by IFC Films
UK. 109 min. Not Rated
With Steve Coogan & Rob Brydon

[Article originally appeared:]

“She was… only… 16… years old.” These words are spoken over lunch by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon during a duel of dead-on Michael Caine impersonations. Dueling is the operative word here. Michael Winterbottom’s new trifle of a film is the very unlikely follow-up to his 2006 comedy “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story”, which was a meta-adaptation of Laurence Sterne’s 18th century novel. Continuing to play variations of themselves, Coogan and Brydon reprise their roles from that earlier film in “The Trip”.

The new film takes the two British actors out on the open road for little more than a series of skits that involve the aforementioned Michael Caine impressions among others, including Sylvester Stallone, Al Pacino, and Woody Allen, each funnier than the last. Oh, there’s some backstory about Coogan being sent on the excursion by a newspaper, ostensibly to write reviews of Lake District eateries. Since Coogan is currently experiencing a rough patch with both his American girlfriend and his career, he invites his old pal, Brydon, to join him. Brydon, happy to be asked, comes along despite having to leave his wife and toddler behind. The competitive tension between the two friends is what elevates this movie from your average cable TV series, which is exactly its genesis. The six-part mini-series, a recent BBC hit, has been edited, rather successfully so, to a 100-plus breezy minutes.

Both men are clearly burdened by their insecurities but wear them quite differently. It’s that difficulty in understanding each other’s issues that gives the comedy such welcomed depth. Coogan is ambitiously pursuing a larger movie career in the States. The phone calls with his agent and his girlfriend depresses him, and he numbs his anxiety by sleeping with the lovely women with whom he crosses paths, one an ex he can’t even remember. Meanwhile, puppy dog Rob is less focused on his career, going about happily as a B-list celebrity. He clearly enjoys aggravating Steve with his complacency and slightly better mimicking abilities.

Does Steve get his big studio picture? Does he patch things up with his young lovely across the pond? To delve into these details is beside the point. Winterbottom, the most prolific director working today—with the possible exception of Woody Allen—is clearly having a blast with The Trip. After a series of heavy films including “The Killer Inside Me” and “A Mighty Heart”, “The Trip” is a welcome lark.