Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Trip

There’s a scene late in The Trip, Michael Winterbottom’s new, hilariously off-the-cuff road comedy, where one character stands by the passenger side of a car, waiting for the driver to unlock the door.  The man stands there, patiently, and once the driver is within earshot, the passenger reminds him politely to open the car.  “Oh, I thought I had,” the driver replies.  He unlocks the car, they both get in, and off they go.

If this scene seems unnecessary or slight, that’s because, on the surface, it is.  But for the duration of the film, I couldn’t get this scene out of my head.  Why did Winterbottom include this?  What was its significance?  It hit me much later: the scene, however simple, demonstrates the random shuffle of human behavior.  It’s significant because it happens in life, and that’s the only reason.  As Ricky Jay reminds us in Magnolia, these strange things happen all the time.

The Trip is filled with moments exactly like this one.  That doesn’t mean it’s a boring film full of inconsequential sequences.  No, far from it.  The Trip is hysterical, thought provoking, and strangely moving.  It’s a significant film that highlights human insignificance.

British actor Steve Coogan (played by Steve Coogan) is tasked by a magazine to conduct a food tasting tour around rural England.  When his American girlfriend (Margo Stilley) bails out at the last second, Steve invites fellow thespian Rob Brydon (played by Rob Brydon) to join him.  Minutes into their trip, utter hilarity ensues. 

Now, here’s where it gets tricky.  Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are indeed actors in real life.  You know Coogan from The Other Guys, Tropic Thunder, Hamlet 2 and more.  Brydon is not as well known here, but is widely popular in his native UK.  In The Trip, they appear to be playing hyperbolic versions of themselves, much like Larry David does on Curb Your Enthusiasm

Before long, we are privy to the conversations Steve and Rob have over lavishly posh food.  Rob, it appears, has made a name for himself as an impressionist, and he often breaks into different voices with no notice.  Whether Rob does his impressions very well (he does a killer Michael Caine and Woody Allen) or not good at all (Al Pacino, Sean Connery), the point is that he’s doing them.  And if they aren’t annoying the shit out of Steve, then they’re making him jealous.  In summation, the film is essentially about two colleagues who continually try to one-up each other through different facets of their comedic craft.

This method, I assume, was achieved through countless hours of on-camera improvisation, resulting in what will end up as one of the funniest films this year.

Throughout Winterbottom’s layered career, he has directed films that are very good (24 Hour People), very sexual (9 Songs), very bad (The Killer Inside Me) and very gut wrenching (A Mighty Heart), but never has he directed a film as uproarious as The Trip.

I’ve only touched on the comedic aspects of the film, but there is indeed something else lurking here, which would be a shame to indulge further on.  I will say that, like most comedians, Steve Coogan, the character, is using comedy as a way to escape himself, to bury his personal angst.  This doesn’t reveal itself in obvious ways, but in the end, Coogan’s sinking solitude is what stayed with me. 

Everyone can recall a time when they had to put on a happy face and act like they weren’t upset. Some of us even put on a show around people to achieve some sense of normalcy.  There’s a great line in Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line that I think Steve, the character, would identify with.  When asked if he’s ever lonely, his response might be similar to Sean Penn’s in Malick’s film: “Yeah, only around people.”  Afterall, what’s lonelier than being around people and trying not to act lonely? A


  1. I'm currently making my way through Winterbottom's filmography and have been already been presented with various hits and misses. The Trip is definitely one of the highlights for me in what I've seen thus far (along with his other two films with Coogan - I have yet to see The Look of Love).
    I'd be interested in hearing what you think of the rest of his filmography in one your director lists.

    1. Oh man, he'd be a tough director to work through. Because I agree, he has had many hits and many misses, but when he's on, he's on.

      Seen 9 Songs yet?

    2. I have, nice idea, but ultimately very dull. Probably one of my least favorite films from the man.

    3. Yep, I completely agree. Does nothing for me.

  2. Did you hear about The Trip to Italy?

    1. I liked it, but not nearly as much as the first one.