If the idea of going on a minibreak with Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and Michael Winterbottom sounds like your cup of crazy, then run, don’t walk, to see The Trip. Fans of Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (and if you haven’t seen this gem, rectify the situation, immediately) will know just with they’re in for: Coogan and Brydon playing semi-fictionalised versions of themselves, with all manner of lightening quick banter and gut-busting giggles to follow.
Winterbottom throws the friends together by way of a road movie-cum-food odyssey, which provides a loose structure for what is essentially a string of uproariously silly conversations, hilarious impressions and, most curiously, a fair bit of navel gazing. Coogan has been commissioned by The Observer to write an article on his gourmet travels through Wordsworth and Coleridge country, but when his girlfriend ditches him, Coogan deigns to awkwardly invite his work colleague, Brydon.
The odd couple then set off – mostly scriptless and definitely sat-nav-less – into England’s windswept north, stopping to sample various sumptuous tasting menus, stay in quaint hotels and pay their respects to the great poets. Coogan also finds the time to pays his respects to a couple of local lasses, but his heart, like his girlfriend and his oft-ringing agent, remains tied to LA.
It’s clear the foodie aspect has taken a back seat in the theatrical cut of this original six-part mini-series. Instead Winterbottom focuses on the comically competitive, shamelessly bickering friendship between his two leads, as well as mining the surprisingly emotional vein of Coogan’s midlife and floundering-career crisis. Was Alan Partridge really Coogan’s comedic zenith? Brydon’s frequent needling and Coogan’s wounded retorts would certainly suggest so. Here the film’s deft mixture of fiction and fact bleed so painfully well together that Coogan very nearly transforms into a tragic hero.
For impersonations aside (and by god there are a lot of impersonations!) The Trip is actually a much more affecting as a stumbling journey of self-discovery. Winterbottom swiftly moves beyond comparing their careers - Alan Partridge with Small Man in a Box, or who does the better Michael Caine – to a revealing juxtaposition of Coogan’s state of protracted bachelorhood with Brydon’s jocular marriage and new fatherhood. Further parallels are drawn between Coleridge and the idea of domesticity stifling creative life, a question underscored by Coogan’s palpable anxiety about his waning career.
If that all sounds rather dour, then rest assured there’s more than enough bone dry wit, and potentially too many Pacino, De Niro, Connery, Hopkins and Caine impressions to sweeten The Trip. Moreover, there’s just something bewitchingly satisfying about watching two friends and master comedians riff with each other. Alan Partridge’s shadow may be a long one, but with the help of Brydon, Coogan more than shows the old dog has a lot of tricks left in him yet.
- four stars
Published on TheVine
Australian release date: 30 June 2011