Review: The Trip (2010)

The Trip is hilarious solely because the two protagonists are very funny people. The situation, a restaurant tour through Northern England, isn’t particularly funny. Almost none of the developments in the plot are funny. There are a few moments of physical comedy—some funny faces and a spill in a creek—but for the most part the humour entirely derives from Steve Coogan’s and Rob Brydon’s personalities.

This might explain why it works for British comedians Coogan and Brydon to play fictionalized versions of themselves. In the movie, Steve is looking for someone to accompany him on the tour of restaurants in Northern England he is doing for The Observer. He had planned to go with his girlfriend Mischa, but they’ve taken a break in their relationship and she’s gone back to America. As he bluntly tells his sorta-friend Rob over the phone, he’s tried a number of other people but no else can go, so he wants Rob to join him. Rob is game and they head off across Northern England, stopping for reservations at gourmet restaurants, sleeping at nice small hotels, and checking out some of the sites associated with the Romantic poets Wordsworth and Coleridge.

To clarify, a lot of the humour comes from the conflict between their personalities, much of which is improvised. Steve is the melancholy wit, and Rob is the amiable funnyman. Steve has left a wake of broken relationships and one-night stands behind him, whereas Rob is happily married with a baby. Steve styles himself as a more intellectual, artistic comedian, whereas Rob is unapologetically populist. They both enjoy the food though, and although Steve knocks Rob for his lowbrow impersonations, Steve fancies himself a better Michael Caine. Their impersonation battle becomes the centrepiece of the comedy, but there are some other great bits, such as their riffing on masculine warrior dialogue (“To bed! We ride at 8:30 for 9!”) or their competition to see whose voice has a greater range.

The movie is a condensed version of the BBC 6-episode first series, and at times events are noticeably choppy. Some of this could have been fixed if director Michael Winterbottom, known for some fairly innovative British films (24 Hour Party People; Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story), had clarified more of the transitions in time with good old-fashioned fades or dissolves. Smash cuts aren’t always useful.

One warning for North American readers: this isn’t a strict farce or just about laughs. Some fairly serious dramatic moments are juxtaposed with scenes of laugh-out-loud banter. Some viewers might think these serious scenes diminish the hilarity of the film, but the humour here works as eruptions amid the realities of ordinary life. As I recall The Office Christmas Specials, I think British comedies are often very good at doing this.

7 out of 10

The Trip (2010, UK)

Directed by Michael Winterbottom; starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.