Friday, September 17, 2010

"The Trip" by Michael Winterbottom with Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan

I attended the second screening of "The Trip", a film which revisits the meta-fictive collaboration between Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon that worked so well in "A Cock and Bull Story". Importantly, the director of that film is back, Michael Winterbottom, who lenses and edits things with a quick-witted, sharp eye. The editing of this film is arguably as important as the comedy, or rather it takes someone who knows these actors well to extract from them improvisations that have been distilled here into 90 minutes of charming hilarity and comedy gold. Fans of Coogan and Brydon: prepare to be rewarded. Actually, know them or not, this production translates into good fun for anyone who appreciates English wit and humour. You need not think it highbrow, either.

The premise, after all, is simple. Steve Coogan (in the story version he plays of himself) has just broken up with his girlfriend, with whom he was about to embark on a whimsical food writing/travel junket for the Observer newspaper. Already committed to the project, and now without a travel partner, he asks his old friend Rob Brydon to join him on the trip--a winding tour of the beautiful Lake District and Yorkshire Dales. Hilarity ensues. Neurotic habits, mutual annoyances, impressions abound (Brydon at our Q&A really wants to stress that he and Coogan "amp up" their characters, he does not do impressions ad nauseum in real life) and the movie is thoroughly funny as the two proceed to spar through scenery which looks amazing on film thanks to Winterbottom.

Indeed, at the same time that this is a comedy, it is also a bona fide love letter to the countryside--one that certainly made me and others want to physically visit the places that these two rambled. (The Broughdale Scar, Bolton Cathedral) Pure eye twinkling enjoyment and belly laughs. As for the comedy itself--how do I summarize--I loved it all, especially when you know it comes from hours of skilled improvisation. Among the funnier exchanges: how Michael Caine talks, past and present; how to best say the line, "Come come Mr. Bond, you take pleasure from killing as much as I do" in a sober, penetrating way; what Coleridge did with opium; middle age; who can sing in the most octaves; what would each person's eulogy be if the other all seems trivial when I list it, but believe me, the component parts add up to a lovely film, which entertains. There is no questioning Brydon and Coogan's amazing comedy skills--they are the stars...never got tired it.

The film is not without a structure, either--Winterbottom extracts enough half-truths about Coogan's own alleged dark side (his reported dabblings with illicit drugs, his womanizing) to make the film have some thoughtful ruminations on chasing Hollywood fame vs "being content" in beautiful England--the terra firma.  Here, Brydon's happy-go-lucky family man is played up as a foil to Coogan's equally sent up brooding neurotic--incessantly complaining or texting his American agent. This tension, a device really, becomes a wellsource for Brydon and Coogan's winning ad-libs, as they madly snipe at each other through the rolling Dales....

The Trip was apparently cut as a film almost as a lark. It had already been shot as a commissioned 6 part series for BBC2, but Winterbottom recut it as a fulllength for submission to the Toronto International Film Festival. Judging by how the audiences reacted here (cheers and laughing ovations) I am sure the boys are now speedily considering leaving it as a film and getting North American distribution. If that is the case, they might edit the end a bit more, seems to be the only nitpick people have. Other than that--great, fond laughs. People at the FilmFest saw this film as a tonic to the tone of self-importance which other films might have brought

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