There’s nothing explicitly original about the Michael Winterbottom-directed The Trip. The idea of two male leads that don’t particularly like each other forced together by circumstance has been seen multiple times before and is practically a staple of the genre. Even roadtrip comedies have been done to death, Todd Phillips’s Due Date coming out just last year. So what makes The Trip special? It’s absolutely hilarious.
Occasionally weighed down by bizarre tonal shifts, The Trip is propelled by incredibly chemistry between stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they play off each other with perfect timing and wit. Though the film runs the risk of repetition as the pair goes from restaurant to restaurant, hotel to hotel, the repartee and stunning visuals never lets the audience get tired of either the story or the characters.
Playing a fictionalized version of himself, Coogan is assigned by a magazine to travel through the English countryside and review some of the finest restaurants Britain has to offer. When his girlfriend, Mischa (Margo Stilley) opts out of the trip at the last moment to go back to America, Coogan has no choice but to invite Brydon – also playing a fictionalized version of himself – along as his travel partner. Visiting 10 restaurants and 10 hotels, the two talk and bicker about idioms, relationships, impressions and careers while doing their best to tolerate the other’s company.
When discussing a film featuring the likes of comedians such as Coogan and Brydon the principal expectation is that movie must be hilarious and they do not disappoint. Entirely improvised, demonstrating that these two men are true masters of their craft, each conversation is filled with gut-busting laughs, whether they are debating who does the better Michael Caine impression or riffing about the trope, “Gentlemen to bed, we leave at first light!” as seen in seemingly every gladiator/warrior movie ever made. If the film is an experiment to see how wildly funny Coogan and Brydon can be without any real structure or planned dialogue, then it’s a massively successful one.
In terms of the visuals, Winterbottom is simply blessed by being surrounded by such beautiful country, which he captures brilliantly and effortlessly. Conversations between Coogan and Brydon on the road are handsomely accentuated by the territory they are speeding past, while other scenes are purely defined by the area (one such example has Coogan in a wide shot standing on the edge of a cliff and screaming “A-Ha” into the void. Even beyond the striking features of the land, Winterbottom does an incredible job filming in the restaurants’ kitchens as well, accentuating the fact that what the chefs do is very much an art form in itself.
What sadly drags the film down is when it strays away from the funny. Not a slant against the actors’ ability to play drama, but the story simply operates and flows better when it is a comedy. Edited down from a six-part series shown on BBC, it’s entirely possible that these moments fit better into an extended format, but here they are simply jarring and feel out of place. The Trip does occasionally, and with success, blend the comedy with the drama (such as when Coogan recites Brydon’s woefully depressing eulogy with Brydon standing right next to him), but when it stands alone, the movie suffers.
Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip is a perfect example of simple plan, wonderful execution. Beautifully shot and featuring incredible work from Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, the movie is a wonderful take on the road trip comedy. Now all I can think about is how amazing the full series must be.