The Trip, 107 mins, rated TBC, opens in cinemas 30 June 2011.

(This is my review as published in the July 2011 issue of The New South Wales Law Society Journal)


The Trip reunites British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon with director Michael Winterbottom. They last worked together in Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story in 2005. In each film, Coogan and Brydon play exaggerated versions of themselves.  What’s fascinating is to try to work out just how exaggerated these film selves are.

Steve Coogan has appeared in several feature films, such as Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People (2002), but is probably best known for his comic character Alan Partridge, an obnoxious TV- and radio- show host. Rob Brydon appears occasionally on Australian TV screens in ABC1’s comedy series QI, hosted by Stephen Fry, and has featured in some “sleeper” TV comedies such as Gavin and Stacey (rerun a few months ago on ABC2).

The setup for The Trip is that Coogan has been commissioned by The Observer’s Sunday magazine to review 6 restaurants in the Lake District, Lancashire and the Yorkshire Dales. He intended to do the trip with his girlfriend, but suddenly that relationship is – as Coogan puts it – “on hiatus”. After asking several other friends to accompany him, he has to settle for Brydon.

We do see the real restaurants and inns – some of them highly acclaimed, such as L’Enclume in Cumbria, Hipping Hall at Kirkby Lonsdale, and The Angel Inn at Hetton. But the film’s main focus is on the seemingly improvised conversations between Coogan and Bryson as they eat magnificent meals, stay in charming hotels, and travel through extraordinarily beautiful countryside.

And these conversations are hilarious. These are two quick-witted men, who clearly have a great respect for one another – even though the conceit of the film is that Coogan looks down on Brydon because Coogan sees himself as a film star in America, whereas Brydon’s considerable success has mainly been in Britain. Both men are excellent mimics, and at any excuse they will suddenly become Michael Caine, Sean Connery or even Woody Allen. The contest over whose Michael Caine impression is the more authentic is worth the price of the ticket (though you can see it on YouTube for free!).

The film portrays Brydon as a happily married man, content in his career, whereas Coogan is shown as divorced (true), with a son (false: he has a daughter), and a series of failed relationships (questionable), who is bitter about the fact that he has not made it big in Hollywood (possible), and who seduces various women working at each hotel (no comment). This aspect of the film continues their personas from Tristram Shandy: Coogan the jaded narcissist, and Brydon the well-adjusted under-achiever.

And so The Trip gives us the comedy of self-deprecation, but from the viewpoint of a narcissist as well as a realist. It resembles in style the comedy of Ricky Gervais (one of the comic geniuses behind the British TV series The Office and Extras), and Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm): in each case you find yourself wondering just how close to the truth the comedy really is.

But the difference here is the set-up. Winterbottom is an excellent and versatile director, and the spectacular Northern scenery is magnificently shot. Winterbottom also handles the pair well: the comedy is brisk and appears completely off-the-cuff, although we know there must have been many takes of some scenes, because Coogan has admitted that filming The Trip was at times uncomfortable. He has said: “One scene would often take about 8 hours to shoot, in which time we’d have to eat 3 dinners. But then, the cruel trick of comedy is that the easier it looks, the harder it’s been to create”.

The Trip first screened in Britain as a TV series of 6 half-hour episodes. Winterbottom recut the series for release as a feature film in the US (and Australia). This means that while the Brits received Coogan and Brydon’s adventures in small bites, we must swallow it whole. It’s actually quite an intense experience – a degustation menu perhaps – because the wit flows fast and the film seems a very quick 107 minutes. But there’s no need to worry if you miss some of the lines: the wit is such that the film would justify a second helping.