The one thing Steve Coogan hasn’t had for an American audience is a film that showcases his particular level of talents in a meaningful way. Hamlet 2 was an uneven film that he managed to turn into something funnier with his own zany style of comedy. He’s had a handful of roles in other people’s films that he’s done fine in but never really blossomed. It’s interesting, then, that what could be the sort of breakout role he needs is one where plays a fictionalized version of himself.
Coogan stars as … well … Steve Coogan as he goes on a road trip with his friend Rob (Rob Brydon) through northern England. Taking on a restaurant tour for a newspaper, Coogan and Brydon spend a week eating and dealing with eccentricities of their personal lives. For Brydon it’s being in the shadow of someone more successful than him but being ahead of him in the little things, like a family life. Coogan is dealing with the pressures of fame and being single in his 40s. He’s famous but not quite the level that he wants, with his agents trying to talk him into roles and vehicles for him that are contrary to his wish of being a film star.
But the film really isn’t about the two’s road trip. It just happens to take place during it as the film is much more about Brydon and Coogan playing off one another as they eat and commiserate. This is a film about the two just talking and having fun while eating, ranging from dueling impressions to surprising frank appraisals of one another’s career. They are good friends but a week together on the road can grind on any friendship and the two go through the ups and downs that come with it.
This is a film that would not work if Coogan and Brydon didn’t have any on-screen chemistry with one another. The two are instant hilarity any time they’re on the screen together, which is the sheer bulk of the film, and simple things like dueling Michael Caine impressions (with the octave changes from Caine’s lifestyle and Americanization coming into play) become remarkable moments of hilarity. The few moments when the two aren’t together on the screen the film suffers because they play off one another so well, taking some intended comedic moments and leaving them flat. It’s a flaw the film can recover from; the one that almost sinks it is the film’s final moments.
Trying to add some dramatic levity to the film’s final moments, it feels completely out of place with the film’s generally quirky off-beat style of comedy. It’s an odd choice as the film wants to say something bigger about the nature of the two and about the nature of fame but it just is out of place. But that’s not all that shocking because the film was taken from a mini-series and edited from there as opposed to shot as an original piece.
Taken from a mini-series of the same name, the film is culled from that series and as such some things obviously had to be taken out. There’s probably footage from the series that bridges the gap and at almost two hours the film had to make some cuts from the television source to keep it at a reasonable length. It’s a shame, really, because the full source material probably bridges these gaps and makes the ending into something more meaningful. As it stands as a film the ending feels tacked on, as if a quirky film about a road trip about eating is less than fulfilling creatively.
The Trip levels off, then, as a good film that never really hits that higher gear and turns into a brilliant one.
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Notable Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Claire Keelan, Margo Stilley