In 2006, British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon starred together in director Michael Winterbottom’s “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story,” a film within a film in which they played versions of themselves making a film adaptation of Laurence Sterne’s 18th-Century novel. Winterbottom was so taken by the dynamic between the two men that he convinced them to go on “The Trip,” a tour of Northern England’s finer restaurants, to be filmed as part of a TV series. Now Winterbottom has culled from the six episodes a feature length film.
Brydon and Coogan have been working together off and on for some time now, having developed a great affection for and rapport with one another. Like any gifted comedy duo, they’re yin and yang: Brydon is the happy-go-lucky mimic, always making a good-natured joke. Coogan, of course, is the bitter, sardonic, over-it-all prick eager to cut down anyone--especially Brydon--at every turn. It’s magic to watch.
One of their first meals includes all manner of modern gastronomy, from micro greens to foams to duck-fat lollipops. Watching the two of them confront and comment on each—“like snot, but I like the taste”—is hilarious. In a time when even the most passionate food lovers have grown weary of the tiresome fawning over technique, watching these two roll their eyes is a treat. Unfortunately, Winterbottom doesn’t give us much more if it.
Instead the film takes an unexpected turn into the introspective, as the focus shifts to Coogan’s incessant womanizing, his failing relationship with a younger woman who's moved to the States and his frustrations with his inability to take his career to the next level.
While Brydon has enjoyed a successful career as an entertainer (though it hasn’t really extended beyond England), Coogan once seemed poised for global superstardom in the late ‘90s (if you haven’t seen his Alan Partridge, google it immediately and be amazed by a genius at the height of his powers). But the right role never came his way, and now those of us who were lucky enough to come across him a decade ago have been wondering, What went wrong?
Despite all the soul-searching, Brydon, Coogan and Winterbottom keeps things light, making "The Trip" well worth taking.
"The Trip" is showing as part of the Tribeca Film Festival on April 21, 23, 26 & 30.