The Trip (Michael Winterbottom, 2010)
An acting career, one that actually means something, is terribly hard to achieve. What is harder is maintaining one. Steve Coogan, an unorthodox British comedian and actor has been at it for years, delivering some cult favorite characters of British TV and quirky leads in dry to the bone art films. As Coogan so sophisticatedly replies in Michael Winterbottom’s latest feature The Trip, “I work with auteurs.” The other side of the isle is the goofy and terribly annoying but successful TV actor Rob Brydon, a master impersonator who takes quite a liking to Michael Caine’s deep-throated, segmented speech as he spouts his lines “Will you be taking the Batmobile master Wayne?”
Coogan and Brydon are a cheeky pair, a perfect couple for a routine buddy comedy in the style of Brett Ratner’s Rush Hour or your average Will Ferrel movie. Winterbottom’s The Trip however, is far from what you would expect a comedy to be. It’s a wry, tongue in cheek, almost deadpan analysis of Coogan’s and Brydon’s acting careers and their viewpoints on acting in general. The duo end up playing themselves in this film, which is what makes it so intriguing in the first place. Coogan’s girlfriend, who plans a trip with him to critique various hotels across the northern British mountain areas, changes her plans and moves to America to pursue her writing career, leaving Coogan to reluctantly select his ‘friend’ Rob Brydon for the ride.
The miscommunication and uneasiness between the two starts from the first minute as Brydon’s happy go lucky nature inquires for breakfast while Coogan, easily aggravated by Brydon’s care-free attitude, tries to distance himself from his travel buddy altogether. The two go on escapades through the northlands visiting various hotels, staying a few nights and enjoying the high-class European cuisine and critiquing its style and flavor. The movie steadily goes along many a times meandering in Coogan’s flirtatious nature with many a female hotel desk recipient while still forcing a tight and loving connection with his girlfriend in America despite the poor wireless reception in the mountains. Brydon, already a married and settled man, is simply just along for the ride and in particular, the upscale cuisine with his favorite dish being pan-seared scallops (he orders it at least 5 times). The various dinner scenes filled with Coogan and Brydon’s annoying ramblings is intercut with absolutely stunning photography of the delicious meats and sauces being prepared in the back kitchens of the various eateries of northern England. This intercut of succulent and savory dishes makes the film much more than just a drama, but an indulgence in the high-class of Britain’s finest dining.
Winterbottom’s biggest statement in the film however, is outside of the kitchen and in the difference between Coogan and Brydon’s approach to acting and their theories about the art. Coogan, a refined Brit ad art house actor, exudes a very pretentious attitude while being conflicted with the fact that his uber-elite tastes keep him from Hollywood fame and Oscar glory. He believes he can act better than Michael Sheen and out-mimic Brydon on various impersonations including Al Pacino, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Woody Allen. His dreams see him scoring big mainstream films with The Coen Brothers, Michael Mann and the like, while in reality, he maintains an air about wanting to doing art films with auteurs such as Paul Thomas Anderson and Terrence Malick. This contradiction in tone adds to Coogan’s dilemma as an artist reluctant to sell his soul to the mainstream, but still wanting to enjoy the fruits that much more accomplished Brits such as Ian McKellen and Colin Firth have achieved.
Brydon on the other hand, maintains his pride in being a master impersonator and despite Coogan’s various attempts to one up him or blatantly criticize his style and intent in acting, he remains the happy and content man he is. Through Brydon’s attitude, Winterbottom hopes to communicate a message of being at peace with your situation. While Brydon is not even close to being an elite actor in the minds of the cinema prophets, he is consistent about his work and is happy where he is. This point is brought to an ultimate height in the one scene near a store where the lady at the desk gets easily annoyed with Steve Coogan, not knowing who he is, but is excited to see Rob Brydon and asks for an autograph. This turning point happens to be the place where Coogan realizes that his approach to moving on to better things is for mere materialistic and selfish reasons. He wants to be famous, but hates the idea of joining the conglomerate of mainstream yuppies to get to the ends.
Winterbottom’s film, lined with many overlong and aggravating conversations, incoherent mumbling from the leads and unnecessary meandering all somehow manages to get a very important point across, and that point, signified by the contrast in the attitudes of the two actors, is to be at peace with yourself and your work. The Trip seems to roll on for quite a while and it will certainly test your patience, but by the time the film ends, and Winterbottom has made his final points, you come to terms that it was definitely a trip worth taking.