SIFF 2011: THE TRIP (2011) Review

The Trip is a movie that's funny until it isn't, that's keeps returning to the idea of what constitutes "real humor" and then slips into "dramedy" territory. I think if anyone else besides Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon starred in the film, it would fall apart completely--in part because Steve and Rob play fictionalized versions of themselves in the film.

Coogan is enlisted by a magazine to take tours of some of the North England gourmet restaurants and write up his experiences. With his girlfriend Mischa (Margo Stilley) unavailable, he reaches out to his second choice. When they're not available turn him down he finally reaches out to Brydon, fellow comedian and actor who thinks of Coogan as a friend but doesn't quite realize that he's thought of as more of a coworker by his prickly co-star.

Like the best road trip comedies, this one is a study in the contrasts between its two leads: Coogan is the stuffy, entitled one who feels he needs to escape the shackles of TV for the glory of film and respectability, plowing his way through available women and even more available drugs. Meanwhile, Brydon is the congenial family man, with a penchant for impressions, who can be a little overbearing but is always acting in good faith. I suspect his character sticks around Coogan out of one part pity and another part fascination that such a slippery character can exist in the same world.

The Trip is a wonderful display of the duo's timing and the interplay between leads that have a handle on their characters. So many of the scenes are simply the two of them talking across a table filled with sumptuous food and drink, or riding in Coogan's Land Rover through the gray countryside. We can see that Brydon, with his impressions, questions, and second-guessing is just seconds away from causing Coogan to explode in a screaming fit, and it's a testament to Rob's sweetness that we hope Steve can just hold out until the next stop before losing it. Coogan, on the other hand, knows that his career, his relationships, his whole life is at a crossroads now and that he'd better figure out exactly what it is that he wants.

The movie overplays its hand, however, in the several phone calls Coogan makes throughout the film to his girlfriend, his agent, and at one point his son. Each is used to hammer home the point that Coogan's life isn't as rich as he'd like to pretend, and show viewers that he's just a sad guy who needs love in his life. I thought the rest of the film did a good job of getting this point across and these scenes felt superfluous. I loved the fine balance of the other scenes which simply drifted from one destination to the next accompanied by Rob and Steve's reactions. The Steve-as-sad-sack scenes broken up this flow in a way that had me checking my watch on occasion by telling me things I already knew about characters I was already interested in.

Coogan and Brydon played versions of themselves in 2005's Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, a much better film that let its characters be themselves, allowed its point about them to emerge instead of forcing them onto the audience. 

The Trip screened as part of the 37th Annual Seattle International Film Festival. You can find more details at the SIFF site.

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