MPI // 2010 // 112 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // October 20th, 2011
Eat, drink, and try not to kill each other.
With one of the most diverse directorial filmographies in recent times, I never really know what I'm going to get from Michael Winterbottom (The Killer Inside Me), but I tend to like what I see. That trend continues with The Trip, a quiet but very funny road comedy that asks how a man keeps his sanity while on a road trip with somebody he doesn't really like.
Steve Coogan (24 Hour Party People) plays a loose version of himself as an actor who has taken an assignment from The Observer to tour Northern England and write about some of the best restaurants of the region. When his foodie girlfriend, who built the itinerary, decides she needs some space in their relationship and heads to America, Coogan is left in a jam. He doesn't want to go alone and none of his good friends are available. Left with nowhere else to turn, he asks colleague and sort-of friend, Rob Brydon (Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, also as a loose version of himself), who agrees and is excited to accompany him. So north they drive, annoying each other with impressions and bad jokes, but finding things out about themselves and enjoying some tasty treats along the way.
Adapted from a 6-episode BBC2 series of the same name for exhibition in theaters, I was worried that The Trip would be muddled and confusing. For those who watched the series, I guess it still might be, but the film version is still a charming and amusing road trip. The combination of travel, food porn, and droll conversation works extremely well. Slowly paced and with nearly entirely improvised dialog, the film feels almost like non-fiction. Without the dream sequences that occasionally get thrown in, you could almost mistake it for documentary. Plot is nearly non-existent and the narrative drive almost totally comes down to moving on to the next locale in the morning, but it works. At most, we get some conversations between Coogan and his girlfriend and a couple of successful attempts of his to seduce desk clerks and the like, but none of that is really as important as the experience of the travel, which the two actors represent very well.
Nearly all of the success lies at the feet of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, who have a clear chemistry from their times together before. Anybody who has taken a road trip with a dubious companion can easily understand the acidic relationship between the car mates. They certainly have a history together and, in a sense, are definitely friends, but they spend so much time irritating each other with impersonations and undercutting the other's successes that the friendship is hard to see sometimes. But it sits under the surface and, as they sit in the car or the restaurant riffing on Michael Caine's progressively shifting accent, you can see it bubble up. Their reactions seem as natural in the scene as my own watching it; an especially funny line from Brydon makes Coogan crack up as much as it does me. I appreciate the authenticity of it and really enjoyed their dialog, even if the film is dramatically stunted.
Michael Winterbottom's direction is very solid, as well. He has a good sense of pacing, never lingering too long in the car or on a plate of food. Between location and travel footage, close up shots of high-end cuisine, and long dialogs between the actors, there's a lot for him to get to, but he covers everything in a satisfying way. After seeing the film, I wonder if the series would feel tedious and overlong, but that's for another time. This is a quiet film without much that will be overly exciting, but is an intelligent and witty time that will be easy and fun to revisit.
>From MTI and IFC Films, the disc for The Trip is very good. I'd like to see it on Blu-ray, though, because while the image is acceptable, it's a little soft. The landscapes are gorgeous and I'd love to see them in better detail than we find here. The colors look natural and very nice, but the backgrounds just don't have the definition I was looking for. The sound is average and nothing special. The dialog is all perfectly clear and the music from Michael Nyman (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover) comes through pretty well. Almost nothing is done in the surround channels, though, bringing the sum total down a little bit. It's the slate of extras where the disc shines. For those bemoaning the edit of the show into the film, the deleted scenes should satisfy them a little bit. Having never seen the series, I have to assume that the more than a hundred minutes of deleted scenes encompasses much of the series, which featured six half-hour episodes. The time comes out pretty close, at least, though the disc never advertises them as such. They are not in episode form, so come off a little disjointed, but the footage is there. The disc continues with a short piece detailing the meals that the duo eats during their travels. It's pure food porn, but the food looks nice and tasty, so I can't complain. A short making-of featurette, a bit with a few photos and some climbing footage, a trailer, and a poster gallery round out the disc.
The Trip won't knock your socks off with its unabashed hilarity, but people with a penchant for the British style of comedy can do a whole lot worse that this Coogan/Brydon project. This is a strong film cut from an apparently very strong television series, and has an excellent DVD release to boot. Highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes