Director Michael Winterbottom treats American audiences to an easy-to-digest truncated version of his 2010 BBC series, The Trip. Two of the UK’s most reliable funnymen, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (who previously starred together in 2002’s worthwhile Cruise of the Gods), star as analogues of themselves: Coogan a frustrated actor who couldn’t cut it in Hollywood, Brydon a well-adjusted and affable actor/familyman. Coogan and Brydon hit the road on a tour of out-of-the-way fine dining establishments where they partake in delicacies such as “duck fat lollies” and improvise their lines in a generally antagonistic manner. The pair riff about Wuthering Heights, geographical formations, and the proper way to impersonate Michael Caine. The hilarity of these furious exchanges is often matched by a sense of longing on the part of Coogan who secretly desires the life of his stable friend. Despite their never-ending diatribes, no conclusions to Coogan’s problems are offered nor gained upon the journey’s end. They return to their contrasting lives virtually unchanged, Coogan to an empty apartment and Brydon to the warmth of his family, in a finale that is equally touching and devastating.
Winterbottom employs a familiar loose style and handheld camera that suit the film’s improvisational nature quite nicely. The actors are so convincing playing themselves that it’s difficult to tell if they are exaggerating or following even the barest outline of a script. Coogan’s performance is particularly brave; viewers will never take Alan Partridge at face value again.
The Trip opens today at the Ritz Five.