Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 16, 2011 6:47 am 
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ROB BRYDON AND STEVE COOGAN IN THE TRIP

Table talk

If Anthony Bourdain were a British wit and had a similar companion on a road trip of inns with fine cuisine in the north of England, The Trip, a slightly overlong feature film edited down from a TV series and starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (reunited after Winterrbotom's 2005 Tristram Shandy), would be the probable result. As Coogan and Brydon ride, sleep, eat, and in Coogan's case cavort with female employees, the improvised riffs and wars of impressions keep the proceedings hilarious and the line between reality and invention thin. The film is also a homage to the culture of the North, including its rich literature, subject of some of Brydon's best riffs. Coogan himself hails originally from north of Manchester and late in the trip does a detour to visit his "parents." Brydon is Welsh.

The "Trip" is ostensibly a tour of places to eat and stay around the Lake Country the Observer has commissioned Coogan to do. He invites Brydon along for company in a phonecall where he reveals his friend was fourth or fifth choice. It was originally to have been a romantic ramble with Coogan's (fictional) American girlfriend Mischa (Margo Stilley), who's a bit of a foodie. But their relationship is on hiatus and she's staying back in the US as his regular, somewhat awkward, calls to her indicate. Brydon is seen as happily married with a small child, and is an extremely successful in English TV and more settled than his ostensible travel host. This does not keep Coogen, who puts on his regular persona of an ego-obsessed actor whose career in movies has not been what he'd hoped it would be, from constantly being condescending toward Brydon. This rivalry fuels their entertaining and competitive dialogues in the car and at the table, which mean that while we see the food being prepared and hear it announced, the two men seem to pay only passing attention to what's on their plates. We get to see some impressive modern cuisine displays on plates (which may be silly or enticing according to your taste) but they are only incidental decoration for scenes that are about friendship, competition, and verbal wit. The Trip has occasional longueurs and might have been tighter and wittier if it had lost 20 minutes or so, but it also contains hilarious exchanges.

While Coogan is moody and so egocentric he can at times be downright mean (but always in a funny way), Brydon's persistent but comical flaw is that he can't go for two minutes without putting on one or several of his impressions of Hugh Grant, Roger Moore, Anthony Hopkins. De Niro, Pacino, Michael Caine (at different stages of life) et al., which Coogan sometimes tries to outdo, not without success. When necessary Brydon brings out his rather uncanny Small Man in a Box" impression -- which Coogan at one point futilely tries to imitate by himself in a mirror. A particularly droll exchange -- among many -- comes when the pair visit the ruined church and graveyard at Bolton and Coogan begins to invent an oration he might deliver at Brydon's funeral. Typically, he declines to allow Brydon to return the favor.

The underlying contrast between the two men on the comedy road trip begins with the fact that Coogan is more famous and has a more original, mordant comic sensibility but is a disappointed man, vaguely insecure with his teenage son, awkward with his American girlfriend, unhappy with his career. Brydon on the other hand may be a bit one-note, his impressions stunts spot-on but limited in range, but he's no slouch in the field of verbal repartee, and besides that his life seems to be a good more satisfying to him. This difference is directly underlined when the two men return to London and part. Brydon comes back happily to the warmth of his wife and young child. Coogan winds up quite alone in his flashy, posh, but utterly cold high-rise flat.

Obviously the protean and unclassifiable Winterbottom, whose work has ranged from 24 Hour Party People to The Road to Guantanamo -- as well as Tristran Shandy, A Mighty Heart, and The Killer Inside Me -- has constructed all this, in collaboration with his two comic improvisers, but if the movie goes down easy, and it certainly does, it's because any element of fakery is seamlessly blended in with the real background and experiences of the gastronomic tour. The pleasing background impression that emerges is that the "industrial north" of England is, in fact, largely a place of lovely wild landscapes garnished with a light layer of snow and dotted with the occasional fine inn. No images of the big northern cities or their urban blight are allowed to spoil the pretty picture, though Coogan boasts that the North of England started the Industrial Revolution.

The 2010 BBC TV series, also called "The Trip," consisted of six episodes focused on six north of England fine inn destinations, which were The Angel at Hertton, The Inn at Whitewell, L'Enclume, Holbeck Ghyll, The Yorke Arms, and Hipping Hall, hostelries in Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Lake District. The feature film version debuted in September 2010 at Toronto. It began a limited US theatrical release June 10, 2011.

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