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Odd Couple

by John Rodat on August 3, 2011

The Trip
Directed by Michael Winterbottom

About halfway through The Trip—that is to say, after the 34th close-up of a shellfish-broth reduction being lovingly ladled over an arrangement of perfectly seared scallops garnished with lemongrass—it dawned on me: I am freaking starving. Oh, and also, this movie is shot and paced incredibly like a television series.

Which, it turns out, is exactly the case. The movie that I saw is a re-edited version of a six-episode series originally aired in 2010 on BBC 2. The director of the series, Michael Winterbottom, is also responsible for the translation to the big screen; I must assume, then, that he saw some magic in the television run that he hoped to preserve in the theatrical release. It’s a gamble—especially for stateside audiences, to whom stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon will be far less recognizable.

The conceit of The Trip is that a British magazine has asked Coogan to travel through Northern England visiting gourmet restaurants and writing about his dining experiences. Coogan, we discover, agrees mainly to impress his foodie girlfriend. But prior to the trip, the pair decide to take a break from the relationship, leaving Coogan dateless for the weeklong tour. Rather than make the trek solo, he asks his longtime friend and antagonist Rob Brydon to come along.

In Britain, this pairing, in itself, must be promising. Coogan and Brydon are fairly successful and well-known comic and dramatic entertainers, and they have history together. Their “personal” relationship, as portrayed in their collaborations (Tristram Shandy: a Cock and Bull Story, an example which made it to this side of the Atlantic) and in the media, is a fond but prickly and competitive one. So, if we can imagine something like Antiques Roadshow starring Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller, we might have something like a domestic analog.

To the extent that Winterbottom sought to convey the tangle of amusement and annoyance that is a long trip with a family member, he succeeds totally. There were moments during The Trip when I wanted to throw myself out of the car. There were also moments when I found myself almost envious of the closeness and rapport of the two, who really are remarkably well chosen for this project.

The friendship of Coogan, a vain, ambitious and professionally insecure comedian with aspirations to greater, weightier dramatic success, and Brydon, a far more easygoing and blithe, even self-satisfied, type of entertainer, is the most interesting part of the trip. The great portion of the dialog was improvised, and there are some, very few, touching, telling moments, which Winterbottom doesn’t crowd or force.

The end of the trip, and the end of The Trip, presents a bit of a riddle for the viewer wondering at the degree of artifice in this docu- , mocku-, what-the-menatary. But, personally, I found it satisfying enough and found fault only with the overlong and too many kitchen prep scenes.

Which, I suspect, would not have bothered me at all, had I been closer to my fridge.