Films pitting two comedic personalities against each other are often a riotous hit or a sleazy miss, but Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip falls somewhere in the middle—definitely leaning more towards the ‘hit’ side. If the Michael Caine impressions didn’t feel too tired after a decent gap in time, it would’ve been at the extreme end of ‘hit.’ However, the chemistry between the duo of funnymen feels so good, right, and gleeful that it’s able to mask dragging storyboarding and the fact that there’s not much else except for the volleying of jokes. Delving into the world of culinary delights also gives it a little more of an advantage.
The Trip reunites director Winterbottom with his Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story stars, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, and reignites their bromantic rivalry during a lavish tour around northern England. Coogan originally sets up the trip—a business-oriented one, as The Observer assigns him to review restaurants in the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District—with his girlfriend Mischa (Margo Stilley), but when she backs out at the last minute, the only person who can replace her is Brydon. While the two men do end up tasting the finest cuisine in the region, they pay more attention in trying to outdo one another in their banter, food commentaries, celebrity impersonations, and winning arguments. When not with each other, Brydon sentimentally keeps in touch with his wife and infant daughter back home while Coogan unwittingly beds other women and tries to resolve tensions with Mischa. The romantic and family lives of the two men vastly contrast but while they usually clash in conversation, their shared sense of humor never falters.
For the first approximate 40 minutes, you know you’re in for a pure enjoyable comedy. Coogan and Broyden are truly a couple of the funniest yet most homely people you have probably never heard of. Their impressions of Hollywood greats such as Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, and Sean Connery are so dead-on and delightful, plus their chemistry is so evident it’s as if Coogan and Brydon could be a household name as much as Cheech and Chong. However, on their own, Coogan and Brydon aren’t as strong and interesting. We feel a bit of sympathy for Coogan as he struggles with his entertainment career and his troubled relationship, and Brydon is lovable as a doting husband and father, but they usually need each other and their comedic strengths in order to create the magic in this film (It’s also due to the fact that any supporting characters are very minor and aren’t capable of providing much comic relief). After those 40 minutes, although it’s understandable to grow attached to the men’s feuding friendship, you may increasingly feel eager for their foodie trip to end—and also feel like they may need a new schtick to keep spectators entertained other than imitating other actors.
But in light of all the repetition and the almost-empty weight of the story, when Coogan and Brydon are hilarious, they’re hilarious, and the laughs they bring are hearty and genuine. The humor is sometimes crude, but never overly gimmicky or over-the-top. Most, if not all of it is done through improvisation and they’re proven naturals at it. In addition to the qualities brought by the performers, the film’s high points are in the subtle visuals. The lush scenery of England is showcased in much of the film, like when Coogan is being photographed in the Yorkshire Moors by a gal pal and channeling his inner Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. But more especially, the shots of fine dining are sure to whet any appetite. From salads to scallops, from quail to rabbit, from wines to tiramisu, the variety of exciting dishes that the two men experience will spark the geek in food connoisseurs. But both tragically and with relief, Coogan and Brydon’s antics outshine platters from being the real stars.
And thankfully, the real stars are talented, witty, and entertaining enough to carry this Trip through and through. It’s a fun and refreshing roadie “bro” comedy if British humor is your thing and even if it’s not, it’s worth the taste to venture into the territory. After all, humor is universal even if people’s definitions differ. Just try not to get carsick after you hear ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” for a second time after 20 minutes.
‘The Trip’ will be playing in select theaters in the US starting June 10th.