In Michael Winterbottom‘s miniseries/film The Trip, a publication assigns Steve Coogan (Coogan) to do a piece on fine restaurants all over England and Wales. Needing a plus one and seeing that his family and/or girlfriend are unavailable, he reluctantly calls Rob Brydon (Brydon), who is apparently the Jen Bunney of British actors. Hilarity ensues.
The film tackles the usual tropes of multi-generational British drama with reverence, beauty and humour. Steve plays Joy Division on his stereo to shut Rob up. They try to best each other’s impressions of other actors. They make fun of medieval war period pieces, producing one of the film’s funnier lines. Steve and Rob encounters an old man who takes away the silent romance of the countryside’s rock formations. All of those parts show the film’s improvisational nature that, sometimes uncomfortably, blurs the line between fact and fiction. Rob’s impressions are less spot-on that Steve’s and he is grating when other characters come into the mix, but Brydon, playing himself, is an optimistic delight to watch.
Although the next few parts in the film aren’t particularly nor intentionally funny, there’s a bit of dialogue about the complex British freeway system that makes me feel lucky that I live in North America. They also take a stab at food criticism that sounds either vile or pedantic and purple-prose-y, the words Rob read out can also be mistaken for film criticism. There’s also the lack of reception in the English countryside, possibly hinting at that hole in these places’ customer services or how these characters aren’t that connected with technology or the other characters with whom they want to communicate. Rob indulges in funny phone sex with his wife, Steve talks to his editor, agents, girlfriend and son and these conversations show how distant and different he is from those people.
But seeing this as a comedy, I’m going to be depressing in this blog post about it. Speaking of Jen Bunney and last resort friends, the comedy and the drama intersects within Steve and Rob assessing the latter’s recent dearth of acting roles. Coogan, as Rob says, is ‘brilliant’ in his leading and supporting roles, but the movie does remind us that he might just be a B-grade afterthought and yes, it makes us worry about his career a bit. He has dreams about the hyperpositive and negative that go with recognition (Ben Stiller makes another cameo in a British film). He works with a photographer that he can’t remember ‘meeting.’ Rob asks him if he’ll want to win an Oscar in the condition that his son falls ill.
The film also shows Coogan compared to his peers. His British and American agents call him about TV roles that were too late to be offered to Hugh Laurie. He resents that people recognize Rob over him or that agents choose Michael Sheen over him. Thinking of himself as the last resort also involves Steve and Rob’s contest of impressions including Michael Caine – apparently doing Caine is the trendy thing now. He doesn’t see the silver lining however, as Caine himself was probably as existential when he was making Jaws 3. The actors they imitate have had good early and later years, but since Steve is in the middle. And yes, it’s eye-roll worthy to watch two middle class white men complain while they’re living in contemporary style condos and work-vacationing while eating high-class, gourmet-cooked food. But this is only a week in their lives, and an actor’s fine life is understandably precarious and fleeting.
The Trip makes sense as a cut film as much as it does as a I imagine a longer miniseries would be. It’s a great meditation of career and age, as one man’s glee becomes infections to the other, and we’re left in the end to wonder whether this week has changed them. 4/5.