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Weekly Watch: ‘The Trip’

| Monday, October 27, 2014

the-trip-web-SUSAN ZHU | The Observer
It doesn’t take long for “The Trip” to introduce the personalities and cruxes of its two characters. Steve Coogan, or rather the fictionalized version of him, quickly clarifies to peer, colleague and long-time acquaintance Rob Brydon, also playing a fictionalized version of himself, that he had asked several other people to accompany him on a tour of Northern England’s restaurants before calling Brydon at the opening of the film. Brydon hesitantly responds that he’d have to ask his wife before committing to the trip sponsored by the English publication, “The Observer.” Brydon is not close to Coogan’s first choice for companionship on his weeklong expedition, and Brydon would obviously much rather be with his family. These qualifications inform the actors’ film-long journey across the English countryside’s acclaimed restaurants.

The film itself unfolds like a calmly paced, mature roadtrip comedy, mining for laughs through conversation instead of gross-out gags or huge set-pieces. In a slight skewing of the traditional form, the reason for the trip really is the trip and not some end objective; at one point, one of the men assures the other that it’s not about the destination — it’s about the journey. Still, the two stars never feel compelled to ascend above their own childlike pettiness, with their meals and general interactions often devolving into impression-offs or tit-for-tat bouts of mostly friendly gibes and gritted teeth. Competition between the two stoops down to as insignificant levels as the appeal of their separately ordered appetizers and their individual singing ranges.

In lesser hands, this central function of contention could come off obnoxious or even mean-spirited — especially in the defining cemetery scene in which Coogan delivers a hypothetical eulogy to an inquiring Brydon. Instead, Coogan and Brydon have such an ingrained chemistry that their bickering feels completely natural and normal to their relationship. Despite the fact that, at various times, they are both independently unwilling to admit to the weight of their friendship, their familiarity with each other is apparent throughout — particularly in this cemetery scene. Coming after Coogan has a conversation with his son revealing that Coogan and Brydon have known each other for 11 years, the scene pinpoints each character’s complex, flawed psyches. Both coldly make jokes about the other’s career moves, clearly knowing and having at least a little appreciation for them, but not wanting to cede to any compliments.

While these subtle complexities permeate the motivations for the two main characters, they lay buried under the utter ridiculousness of the tour mates’ conversations. Coogan’s genius, auteur-only mentality clashes with Brydon’s laidback demeanor and steady mainstream success. Coogan never misses a chance to critique Brydon’s work and unrelenting impression outbursts while Brydon mindfully works in slight checks to Coogan’s inflated ego. The actors’ awareness of each other’s ticks shows their knack for quick yet substantial improv, most apparent in their collaborative riff on a Mel Gibson-esque costume drama’s climactic action. Director Michael Winterbottom carefully catches all of the pair’s masterful commitment and improvisation, finding laughs in the heated moments as well as the lulls and reactionary beats.

Winterbottom lends a patient hand to his film’s other aspects as well. Ably handling the sprawling scenery and the insular two-seated tables, he keeps the camera rolling past conventional timing and lets everything play its course. Big scenic shots and behind-the-line cuts to the dishes being prepared praise the country and add character to the food.  “The Trip” is therefore natural and relaxed, playing out almost like a documentary. Events and drama rise to prominence for brief moments, providing momentary stakes. Then they sink back, lying dormant while subconsciously affecting the characters’ behavior. Not every plot point is solved by the conclusion, acknowledging the trip’s brevity in comparison to the men’s greater lives outside the movie.

“The Trip” ends on perhaps a melancholic note — much like the smaller ones sprinkled throughout in various line readings and reaction shots — juxtaposing Coogan and Brydon’s opposing lifestyles. However, Coogan’s final career and life decision-making may provide a moment of hopefulness.  Still, these moments merely float in and out, as spending two hours eavesdropping on the weeklong trip shared by these two enigmatic personalities completely entertains and sometimes even offers slight revelations.

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About Matt McMahon

Notre Dame Class of 2016 student studying Finance and English. From Mercer County, New Jersey. Interests include music, television, film, and writing. Also food. My Mom didn't like what else I had to say here so I took it down.

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