Trans-cultural influence between Britain and America has left Americans with much to rejoice over. From one of the most popular bands in history, The Beatles, to J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular book series turned multi-million dollar franchise, Harry Potter, not to mention the Pilgrims, the British have blessed our American shores with many a great import. One such import is Michael Winterbottom’s 2010 comedy The Trip. After taking an assignment for the food issue of the newspaper The Observer to impress his girlfriend, Steve (an impressively glum Steve Coogan) is forced to find a new companion when she calls for a “break” in their relationship. Rather than traverse the finest restaurants Northern England has to offer by himself, Steve reluctantly invites his friend and colleague Rob (the infectiously sunny Rob Brydon) to come along. On January 20th, a sequel to The Trip called The Trip to Italy premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to highly positive reviews. In addition, star Steve Coogan co-wrote and co-stars in the wonderful Philomena, now a Best Picture nominee at this year’s Academy Awards. In other words, now’s the perfect time for movie rewind of The Trip.
In the film, Coogan and Brydon play exaggerated, hyper-competitive versions of themselves, sniping and nit picking at each other in the way only real friends can. Both Coogan and Brydon are veterans of the British comedy scene, Coogan’s name ringing more of a bell stateside, but there is a palpable tension weaved throughout Steve’s face every time Rob gets recognized or asked for an autograph, but he has no real desire for the kind of fluffy, mainstream fame Rob has accrued. Steve resents Rob’s famous “Small Man in a Box” routine, in which Brydon makes his voice sound small and far away as if he were trapped in a box, but practices it in the mirror, writing it off as stupid when he can’t replicate it. Off-screen, the two are more colleagues than friends, Brydon wouldn’t have had the same career success without Coogan’s help, and their constant bickering is rife with the kind of friction associated with spending too much time with someone you know but don’t know.
Rob is both more and less comfortable with Steve than Steve is with him. Coogan all but begs for conflict, as it’s seemingly the only way he knows how to communicate, with Rob going along less than willingly, wanting to keep their trip a more enjoyable affair. Brydon is comfortable enough with their chat, but as soon as the talk takes a turn for the mean, Rob takes things a little more personally than Steve. As the movie is largely improvised, the realness of the two men’s squabbles is clearly embellished, but their arguments tend to feel more like reality than fiction. This is a good thing, as the whole film has a grounded quality about it that keeps the two from seeming plain old vicious.
For all the drama and realness The Trip has to offer, it is first and foremost a comedy. Even those who don’t know anything of the film may have heard of what I consider to be many of the best parts of the movie: Rob and Steve’s dueling impressions. Rob does Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery, and Woody Allen, all without impressing Steve much, but things escalate once Michael Caine starts up. The competitiveness is at an all-time high during these scenes, as they sit over plates of braised this and foam of that, they get increasingly loud trying out their Michael Caines on each other. These impressions are the best and biggest source of contention between the two, as Steve is convinced that impressions, which are a staple of Rob’s career, are trivial but refuses to let Rob win at them regardless. Their one-upmanship is that of boys as opposed to men, which in addition to their talking over each other, and some ABBA karaoke, makes for a seriously funny treat.
I don’t want this to sound like Coogan and Brydon are simply on a weeklong quarrel-cation, intercut with roasted quail and shots of the English countryside; the film is that, but also so much more. In between the jokes and the gripes, Rob and Steve check out various historical sites linked to romantic poets like Coleridge and Wordsworth, and wax philosophical about aging, relationships, and life in general. During the whole trip Steve has been mulling over whether or not to accept a role in an American drama, and he calls his agent back deciding not to take it as he wishes to stay close to family. Steve spends the whole film acting as if his life is completely together; he pretends not to care about Rob’s superior popularity, he sleeps with various women, and speaks to how free his life is, but we see that’s not true.
The end of The Trip is both heartbreaking and inevitable. At the start of the film we know that Steve, even before his girlfriend leaves him, is more or less alone while Rob keeps busy with a wife and kids. Seeing the two return to their natural habitats not so much changed from their time together but thinking a bit differently, is brilliant to watch. Rob returns to a house as small and cozy as he is, and lovingly talks over the trip with his wife before going to sleep. Sweet. The heartbreak comes from Steve’s harsh contrast. Coogan stands alone in his large apartment, staring out the window. He is at a confused, strange point in life, and the ending feels just as realistic as the rest of the film. At the end of both their trip and The Trip there are no big revelations, no huge emotional shifts, life just continues to go on. There is a big trend in movies for one moment, one adventure, to define its characters, but The Trip has done itself a service in that it doesn’t adhere to that convention.
The Trip to Italy has a similar setup to its predecessor, Steve and Rob on a historical foodie trip, this time in Italy. We can expect more of the same in terms of bickering and impressions, Brydon just can’t help himself, once the film hits theaters. Reviews from Sundance are in and are wholly positive, and if they are to be believed, this not-so-sophomore slump is still no match for the original. So before The Trip to Italy hits theaters sometime this year, head on over to Netflix and watch The Trip. Or if you don’t have Netflix, get Netflix and watch The Trip; it’s a journey worth your while.
Article by Nia Howe Smith