To any aging hippies thinking this is a remake of Roger Corman’s 1967 LSD classic, The Trip, sorry, no acid is dropped here. But plenty of wine is drunk, loads of food eaten, and you won’t believe how much talk about movies there can be in a movie.
But first, a word about idiosyncratic British director Michael Winterbottom. Over the past decade he’s tackled comedy (24 Hour Party People), sci-fi (Code 46), literature adaptation (Tristram Shandy), terrorism (A Mighty Heart), psychotic brutality (The Killer Inside Me), and now comedy again, by editing his recent six-part TV series into a film of the same name.
Let’s go back to Tristram Shandy, one of the best and strangest films ever made, which starred Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden and centered on making a film about an impossible-to-film book. The Trip brings these actors together again, in the story of a divorced actor named Steve Coogan (Coogan), who gets a one-off gig writing reviews of posh restaurants in the north of England. When his girlfriend decides not to accompany him, he asks his actor pal and happy family man Rob Brydon (Brydon) to come along. Both are between acting jobs.
The wonderfully funny gimmick: Coogan plays “himself” as a quiet, droll, full-of-himself, but self-doubting fellow. Brydon plays “himself” as a happy-go-lucky tag-along puppy. What starts off as a succession of worldly conversations during long drives and at fine meals turns into an ongoing case of one-upsmanship, with each guy trying to outdo the other in general and specific knowledge, and each trying to outdo the other’s impersonation of Michael Caine or Sean Connery. When it comes to Al Pacino, it’s all about who can do him louder.
There’s no writer credit on the film, because the dialogue seems to have been made up on the spot. While that could get in the way of most projects, in this case it results in constant giggles, because these guys are brilliant improvisers, and even though Bryden appears to be annoying the hell out of Coogan, they’re obviously tight friends in real life.
The flow of humor is constant, running from startling to charming, yet Coogan and Brydon also subtly sneak in a serious edge about different levels of happiness and contentment and dealing with midlife crises. This is a terrific film for adult audiences. There’s a lot to laugh about and to think about as well.