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The Trip

June 29, 2011  |  12:19pm
<i>The Trip</i>

Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cinematographer: Ben Smithard
Stars: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon
Studio/Running Time: IFC Films, 111 min.

Two British actor/comedians playing versions of themselves travel the beautiful and bleak north England countryside, stopping to eat at various upscale restaurants, but mostly just talking. And talking and talking. And doing impressions of Michael Caine, Woody Allen, and Liam Neeson, as well as British personalities an American audience might not recognize. But mostly just talking, with overlapping affection and competition. Sound like a good idea for a film? It absolutely is.

The Trip is based on a BBC2 series from several years ago starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, and here they are reunited under the always capable direction of Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People, The Road to Guantanamo). Never have two friends talking ad nauseam been more entertaining, their smartly funny dialogue crackling through the alternating tension and fondness that drives Coogan and Brydon’s filmic relationship. Sitting in one of the many restaurants they visit along the way, one begins a Sean Connery impression, only to see the ante upped by the other. And so on and so forth. But it’s not just a friendly comedic contest between the two, their lives differ dramatically as well. Brydon has left his wife and baby daughter behind, and he misses them terribly, while Coogan leaves behind an underwhelming acting career, a divorce and a son who’s getting into some trouble. To fill in the blanks, he seduces comely Polish proprietresses and sexy photographers along the way, but winds up none the happier. Coogan is terrific in this role, and one wonders how much it parallels his real life. Best not to assume too much, though, and just enjoy his arrogant, subtly hilarious and affecting performance.

The thing that seems to drive both Coogan and Brydon the most is an inherent sense of vanity that is perhaps part and parcel of being a performer. But what’s more human than vanity? It’s for that reason that the two manage to remain sympathetic while ironing out their insecurities in an incredibly charming and funny manner. They banter and bicker, and Coogan especially seems uncomfortable with the warmth they feel for one another just underneath the surface. Perhaps this is a fault that stems from their professions, or it could just be the fact that they’re men. Coogan is as uncomfortable with the thought of them having to share a room together as he is hugging Brydon goodbye. And his discomfort is a blast to watch. The Trip takes a cue from Seinfeld in that it’s really a film about nothing. But sometimes that’s the best way to get at something, and that is definitely the case here.

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