Today we’re looking at the marriage of two of modern comedy’s talent bohemoths – Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon appear in Micheal Winterbottom‘s fantastic The Trip.
(I’m looking at the feature film cut of this one rather than the series edit)
Born out of their improvised performances in the film A Cock And Bull Story, Coogan and Brydon (as the tagline suggests) “Eat, drink and try not to kill each other” on their journey through a selection of fine eateries. Here’s the blurb :
When Steve Coogan is asked by The Observer to tour the country’s finest restaurants, he envisions it as the perfect getaway with his beautiful girlfriend. But, when she backs out on him, he has no one to accompany him but his best friend and source of eternal aggravation, Rob Brydon.
The film represents a parody of the personalities, a complete caricature of the 2 comedian/actors. But as we know the best portrayals (especially in the arena of comedy) contain a nugget or grain of truth, hinting at their real lives. It plays up to the personalities from the point of the public eye but glimpsing behind a fictional curtain.
What The Trip does well is that it shows quick cuts from the kitchens, staff and other diners putting the locations into some form of context, and ultimately the central cast themselves.
Very little notice is paid to the cult of celebrity within the context of the story, given that these men are known the world over (and are probably mobbed for autographs in every setting). It’s a refreshing decision and devoid of ego to have them presented this way.
Ben Stiller even pops up briefly which makes for a nice contextual reference to Hollywood and ideas of success.
The performances of the NPC cast (or background actors if you want to be kinder) are fantasticly strong – for the most part they represent the base-level place holders that anchor the audience into reality. The point is they feel real because they are real. This extends to something as trivial as a waiter taking an order or a chef cooking the meal. This adds (as mentioned) the much-needed context and feels ultimately legitimate.
As a viewer you feel a certain amount of jealousy for not being on this trip, but you also feel privileged to be treated to a glimpse of it. There’s also a genuine feeling that the two actually like and respect each other on both professional and personal levels.
With regards to direction, I suspect that large portions of the script just said Steve and Rob drive, instead we are treated to all sorts of wonderful verbal interaction which adds another layer of legitimacy.
The Trip sets Coogan‘s character up as a romantically rudderless playboy with loose morals. An adolescent, arrogant, driven Father having a mid-life crisis of sorts brought on by his current relationship problems.
Brydon is portrayed as a family man, charming and warm, aging gracefully and realistically while remaining grounded in his domestic bubble.
As stated, the elements of truth that shine through in the performances take the form of career commentary and reality-based exchanges.
When speaking about his involvement in the project, Brydon has said that some of these exchanges contained some quite sharp jabs, noting that a misplaced “aha” or jibe about career success would sometimes not land as softly as intended.
Brydon did go on to state that he loves filming this series as he gets to travel, eat, stay and get looked after while working with a friend.
What sells their performances is that a large element of It feels natural, like much of what we see is the way the actors would probably interact if put into this situation.
This is something Winterbottom understood long before filming started, that there was strength in their interactions, not just on a comedic level but ultimately in reference to entertainment.
You can see this in the moments of unguarded and genuine laughter when catching each other off guard.
The performances are nuanced and believable and the back and forth is reactive although evolved, still has an air of freshness for the audience.
Theres also the arc of the two becoming equally, mutually endeared and repulsed as the film moves along.
On paper The Trip doesn’t work. How on Earth could it? A loose script hinging on the casts ability to ad-lib? Where this premise was the downfall of Ghostbusters : Answer The Call, The Trip thrives and beckons the audience eagerly.
Winterbottom saw a way to deliver this idea in a format that broke any preconceived notions on the very possibility of its success. It establishes the talented interplay between Coogan and Brydon nice and early in the runtime and proceeds to funnel it into the story.
If The Trip delivers anything it’s at very least a masterclass on Michael Caine impersonation and performance and at most a wonderful comedic spurring interlaced with a story about friendships, relationship, literacy and food.
This is sparring in the best form between 2 giants of their craft utilising their finely honed skills, amid some of the most stunning British scenery. How neither didn’t corpse through each scene is beyond me.
It’s a very smart piece of work that communicates on many different levels. It’s fascinating to see the exchanges mutate and develop much like how we imagine they would in either comedians writers room. The initial seed of an idea that gets a real-time treatment in front of our eyes. Theres a natural evolution to the humour and delivery that unfolds for the audience – It’s a fascinating glimpse.
I’ve included a fine exchange for reference:
Rob: You could have a costume drama here, couldn’t you?
Steve: I would love-I’d absolutely-I’d just love to do a costume drama in these hills, leaping, vaulting over dry stone walls with a scabbard, with that dead look in my eyes, ’cause I’ve seen so many horrors that I’m sort of immune to them, and I’d say something like, “Gentlemen, to bed! Gentlemen, to bed, for we leave at first light. Tomorrow we battle, and we may lose our lives. But remember: death is but a moment. Cowardice is a lifetime affliction.”
Steve: To bed, for we rise at daybreak!
Rob: Very good. Very impressive.
Steve: But they always, they always leave at daybreak. They never leave at, you know, nine-thirty. “Gentlemen to bed, for we leave at nine-thirty!”
Steve: Ish. “Gentlemen to bed, for we rise at… What time is the battle? About, oh, twelve o’clock? Twelve o’clock. How is it on horseback, about three hours? So we leave about eight, eight-thirty?”
Rob: Eight-thirty for nine.
Steve: “Gentlemen, to bed! For we leave at eight-thirty for nine. And we rise at just after daybreak. Seven-thirty, so just after daybreak. Gentlemen to bed, for we leave at nine-thirty on the dot. On the dot.”
Rob: Do you want to have a run, sire, in the morning? Just to loosen up, sire.
Rob: Another thing they never say is, “Right! Well! We’d better make a move. I want to get back in daylight. We’d better make a move.”
Steve: To bed! Tomorrow we ride! We leave at ten-ish.
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