THE TRIP (2011)
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Claire Keelan, Margo Stilley, Rebecca Johnson, Dolya Gavanski, Kerry Shale
Running Time: 1:47
Release Date: 6/10/11 (limited); 6/17/11 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | June 16, 2011
The Trip, an edited version of a TV series (unseen by me) that aired on the BBC, tells the story of two comedians of about the same age, the same level of success, and sharing the same general space for a days-long trip through northern England. One is happy with his lot in life, both professionally and personally, while the other wants more in the same areas. One is humble where the other is egotistic. One recognizes he has limitations, and the other imagines the full extent of his greatness has gone unrecognized.
It's a simple conflict—one that is probably better suited to the shorter formatted narrative of a situation comedy—that is almost redeemed by the subtly fearless performances of its leads. The two comedians in question are Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (reverse the names in relation to the above descriptions) playing themselves or, at least, people that are almost exactly like them in every observable way—names, career histories, etc.
That's what makes their performances braver than they might appear on the surface of improvised dialogue surrounding celebrity impressions and pointed barbs. It's necessary to differentiate the actor from the role, despite the obvious fact that the role is, to an extent, the actor. For clarity, let's refer to the characters by first names, and the actors themselves by their surnames. Yes, that should clear things up nicely.
As Steve and Rob, Coogan and Brydon don't come off as the most pleasant people here. Steve is petty and bitter—his friendly jabs at Rob start to seem more like uppercuts pretty quickly. He has no problem comparing himself to the recognized geniuses of the Romantic Era without batting an eye. It's everyone else's fault that his career hasn't skyrocketed already. He references gossip he claims to have heard about industry folks wishing they had started working with him a decade ago. Steve probably wishes it more, or maybe it's just projection anyway.
Throughout the movie, he calls his girlfriend (Margo Stilley), who is in the United States looking for work, and wonders if a potential employer wants to sleep with her (He, of course, is sleeping around with a hotel receptionist and a magazine photographer). His son is having behavioral problems, and a major career opportunity arises playing the lead on a television show. His spoken choice is whether to stay with his children or join his girlfriend, but there's a fleeting glimpse when the words "TV show" come up in the discussion that point very distinctly to the choice between hoping for something better or stooping to television.
There is nothing inherently wrong with Rob. He's kind, a dedicated husband and father, and doesn't openly gloat about his achievements or complain about what could have been. Rob's problem is that we're seeing him from the Steve's perspective. From that point of view, Rob is the third wheel, getting in the way of Steve's relaxing trip to the country with himself, even though Steve called to invite him on the trip to various local restaurants on a driving tour of the North in the first place.
Rob (and by extent Brydon) is a gifted impressionist, weaving in and out of mimicry of the likes of Michael Caine and Al Pacino during the course of conversation. Steve, the competitive type that he is, needs to one-up his friend, leading to a series of dueling impersonations (The highlight is the two displaying how Caine's distinct vocal inflection, tinted with that cockney accent, has evolved throughout his life). In an act, Rob's vocal skills would be welcome and entertaining, but from Steve's view, where he's simply trying to enjoy a five-course meal so he can write about it in a magazine article (Rob outdoes him in this arena, too), it's an annoyance.
Here is where these two actors and director Michael Winterbottom are presented with a difficult task: How to keep these characters, who are, respectively, difficult to sympathize with and seen from a biased point of view, from becoming as unbearable to us as Rob is to Steve (and perhaps vice versa, though Rob does a better job of hiding it if that's the case).The answer lies in Coogan, who's willing to allow his persona to be defined by resentment, and Brydon, who is jovial in the face of harsh criticism. Now the problem of the repetitive, obvious nature of The Trip is a different matter.
Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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