A long, strange Trip
By Carl Kozlowski
Growing up is great. You make more money, have a better understanding of people and learn to appreciate the finer things in life. Growing old, though, sucks. Not just physically. I’m talking about the emotional toll it takes when you realize that your best work may be behind you, that your career wasn’t quite what you’d hoped for, that your ambitions may never be fulfilled and that there are a lot of younger, fitter, better-looking people in your rearview mirror. They might not have your maturity or experience, but they don’t yet know that life experience and sophistication is important, and they don’t give a shit about yours.
If that sounds familiar, then I have two things to say to you. First, you should probably check out Michael Winterbottom’s new film The Trip, because it may well strike a chord. And second: I’m sorry.
The Trip reunites Winterbottom with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, both of whom starred in the director’s Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. Again, they’re playing exaggerated versions of themselves, although it’s questionable how embellished these characters actually are. For the uninitiated, both are British comics and impressionists who’ve known each other a very long while. Each owes his fame, in part, to the other. In the film, Coogan’s been contracted by a newspaper to spend five days touring the English countryside sampling fine restaurants. His girlfriend, Mischa (Margo Stilley), cancels, so he reluctantly phones Brydon, and the two spend the next several days traveling together and eating lovely meals.
That’s it. Well, mostly. There’s considerably more than just the food in The Trip, which has been culled together from a TV show the trio put together. Largely improvised, Coogan and Brydon have chemistry that veers back and forth between warmth and chilliness.
Coogan, a very funny man whose Hollywood career seems to have been overtaken by Russell Brand, is acerbic and often quite mean to Brydon, determined as he is not to enjoy the excursion. He’s lonely and angry, someone who believes in his own talent but is unable to find satisfying outlets for it. Brydon, by contrast, has seen his own star rise in England, and he’s able to let Coogan’s nastiness roll off. At the same time, he can’t help but try to entertain, constantly breaking into impressions of Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins and so on.
The two constantly battle for superiority amid their opinions on a certain celebrity, in ways that are hilarious because both feel competitive and real. Neither of these men is the superstar he might have once hoped to be, and as their journey continues, they’re confronted with the success or failure—or moral failure—of the other.
The Trip is a small, sophisticated movie that should be placed on the list of classic foodie films, if only the two could be bothered to swoon over their meals in the same way the audience does. But that’s sort of the point—they’re on this trip to eat, but Coogan, like anything else in his life, can’t be bothered with what’s in front of him, and Brydon, thrilled with his meal as he might be, is almost unable to appreciate it unless he’s discussing it in someone else’s voice.
Does that sound slow and weird? It should, because it is. And yet, both Coogan—who’ll be recognized as “Oh, that guy!” to those unfamiliar with his name—and Brydon are so enjoyable that an extended vacation with them feels like pulling up a chair to the table. You don’t always like Coogan, but it’s easy to understand and sympathize with what he and his mate are going through, especially if you’re among the ranks of those of us growing old.