A film review by Craig J. Koban December 28, 2011

Rank:  #25 


2011, no MPAA rating, 107 mins.


Steve Coogan: himself / Rob Brydon: himself

Directed by Michael Winterbottom

Michael Winterbottom’s THE TRIP is one of the most hilarious movies that I have ever seen involving two characters that, for the most part, do very little throughout the story. 

Just how little, you may ask?  Well, its two main stars pretty much drive, eat, and talk (a lot of the latter) during the film’s 107 minute running time.  Yeah, that does not sound like very much for a film so long (to its detriment, THE TRIP is about 20 minutes too long for its own good), but it definitely makes up for its lack of action by delivering on side-splitting hilarity.  Few films from 2011 made me laugh as hard as THE TRIP and if you don’t laugh once during it... then…well…you don’t have a pulse. 

The film stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as…themselves.  Actually, make that slightly exaggerated versions of themselves, but they play themselves nonetheless.  In essence, this is a continuation of their tremendously amusing interplay that headlined another Winterbottom comedy, TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY, one of the funniest films of its year.  In case  you don’t remember, that film involved Coogan and Brydon playing themselves as the stars of a faux-film adaptation of the 18th Century novel of the same name.  TRISTRAM SHANDY portrayed the two stars’ irresistibly competitive edge with one another, highlighted in the film’s most hysterical scene when the two argue how one of them may or may not have challenged either an older or younger Al Pacino playing Shylock in their respective performances.  They also spent time musing on matters of dire importance, like how Brydon had not just a thing for co-star Gillian Anderson, but a “sexual” thing. 

Coogan and Brydon were an irresistibly inspired pair in TRISTRAM SHANDY and Winterbottom seemed to have admired their knack for pushing each other’s buttons so much for comic value that a re-teaming of them seemed not only inevitable, but mandatory.  In THE TRIP Coogan (as Coogan) has taken a job from The Observer to go on a posh restaurant tour of Northern England, perhaps out of a pathetic need to impress the cuisine-loving sensibilities of his semi-estranged American girlfriend.  Unfortunately, his girlfriend decides that the two need time apart, and Coogan does not wish to tour England by his lonesome, so he begrudgingly finds himself inviting his colleague, Brydon (as Brydon) along for the ride.  Brydon does indeed decide to attend, mostly because of the “45 per cent” part of Coogan's fee that he promises him. 

That’s about the just of the film.  They drive, stop at a restaurant, eat, drive some more, stop at a restaurant, eat, stay at a hotel, drive, stop at a restaurant, eat, drive some more…and so on and so on.  Yet, how the film really draws you in is with showing each of them going to great verbal lengths to outwit the other.  The competitive atmosphere between them is undeniably robust and the film becomes a grippingly funny battle of personal one-upmanship.   The two could not be any more different, which makes their interplay that much more spirited and rousing:  Coogan has that devilish grin and capricious energy that is oftentimes punctured by his solemnly melancholic disposition.  Brydon, on the other hand, is more happy-go-lucky, relaxed, and spontaneous.  When they incessantly bicker about every conceivable subject, comic gold ensues. 



What emerges during their mostly polite, but oftentimes-relentless tirades is some of the largest laughs I’ve had in a movie in a long, long time.  Both actors are, for instance, inspired impersonators of celebrities, although I would give Brydon the edge between them, even though Coogan would never, ever admit it.  When they are not having a mimic-duel showcasing their own unique versions of Woody Allen, Richard Burton, Ian McKellen, and Anthony Hopkins (Brydon is a marvel as he channels Hannibal Lector while reading a restaurant review from The Times), the pair has their battle-to-end-all-impersonation-battles when it comes to Sean Connery as James Bond and Michael Caine.   

What’s so knee-slapping about both of their imitations of Caine is how they channel Caine at various times of his career, either the slow and methodical Caine or the Caine of loud, rapid fire delivery.  When Coogan is growing tired of Brydon’s delivery, he jests, “Anyone over 14 who amuses themselves by doing impressions needs to take a long look in the mirror.”  When Coogan engages in a somewhat failed attempt at miming a generic Bond villain, Brydon quips back, “You look like you’re recovering from a stroke and regaining mobility back again.”  When they are not methodically getting on each other’s nerves, they ruminate on other weighty issues, like the real meaning behind the tunes of ABBA and whether or not Coogan is a skirt chaser.  Coogan gets a bit miffed with his buddy's accusations and responds, “I don’t chase girls!  You make me sound like Benny Hill.”   

Amazingly, the film does manage some moments of dramatic levity, especially when it comes to Coogan’s image of himself, which shows what a truly game sport he is as a performer.  The Coogan in THE TRIP, perhaps like the real life version of himself, is bothered by his genuine lack of success as a comic film actor.  He feels that he’s been denied chances of great material because of his lack of stature as a Hollywood player (this leads to an amusing exchange between him and his manager, who tells him that he’s got “a huge amount of momentum,” to which he pitifully whimpers, “You got great momentum when you’re going downhill!”).  Coogan, however, is portrayed as more than a bit cocky and egomaniacal in the film, who sees himself as more debonair and handsome than Brydon, but gets really perturbed when a fan recognizes Brydon over him on the streets.  THE TRIP, as a result, almost becomes a sobering look a middle-age uncertainty and angst, not to mention that it evolves into something unexpectedly touching as it deals with Coogan as a persona that, despite being vigorously funny and entertaining as a performer, is kind of unsure of himself and his career path.  In a way, there’s sadness and a sense of regret behind the laughter in this film. 

Yet, make no mistake about it, THE TRIP is an unmitigated and riotous gigglefest when it hones in on these two blokes as they trek from one stylish inn, posh restaurant, and secluded and picturesque Northern English highway to the next.  Winterbottom films the scenery around them with an admirable eye for its bucolic beauty and the food presented within all of their restaurant stops is both mouth-watering and kind of exquisitely artful (don’t watch this film hungry).  Yet, THE TRIP is about the ballet of uproarious words between Coogan and Brydon as they try to merrily out-joust the other while taking great relish in it.  They also manage to ruminate on the nature of their acting careers in general, but even when their exchanges get serious there is always one of them willing to break the ice.  “You can’t treat your entire life like a Radio 4 panel show,” Coogan lectures his buddy.  Brydon rolls his eyes and retorts with a “Bzzt!” (indicating an incorrect answer) and states, “ Uh.  Yes you can!”


The film is an edited-down version of the BAFTA award winning TV show that was first broadcast on BBC in the United Kingdom.  The footage from the six episodes of the series were used to create this film.  I most definitely will be looking to catch the entirety of the show after seeing this film.

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