Film is not the ideal format for The Trip, the ramshackle comedy in which Brit comedy stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (as “themselves”) bounce around the English countryside, eating high-end meals and engaging in inspired mimicry. But it’ll do. Originating as a leisurely six-episode BBC2 show—and a YouTube sensation once the pair’s dueling Michael Caines bit was leaked—this smoothie of travelogue, food porn and ad-libbing has had an hour-plus gouged for theaters. Less Coogan and Brydon is never a good thing, but at least director Michael Winterbottom has found a decent shape. The Trip: The Movie is its own beast, not a mere Best Bits package.
Granted, one major casualty is the show’s feel for the grind of traveling with someone you don’t totally like. Over six episodes, the two repeated jokes but the redundancy lended it a realism. Here, the pacing is more fleet and Brydon only does Pacino-in-Heat twice, as opposed to 20 times. (Also MIA is family man Brydon’s pass at Coogan’s assistant.)
Retained, however, is the honest-bordering-on-bleak look at its one star. Coogan and Brydon have worked together for years but their on-screen relationship is one of semi-friendly competition. In Tristram Shandy, also by Winterbottom, Coogan (again as “himself”) fretted that Brydon was stealing his movie. Here, the relationship is even more strained. Coogan is coming off a failed storming of America, which produced the bombs Around the World in 80 Days and Hamlet 2, plus tabloid scandals. (The film doesn’t skate around his drug use, but steers clear of mentioning Owen Wilson.) Coogan, alone, depressed and on a break from his girlfriend, fears obsolescence, scared he will forever stand in the shadow of Alan Partridge.
Brydon, meanwhile, has settled into consistent mild popularity—but not, as he angrily insists, mediocrity. The pair’s battles move from impersonations (not just Caine but Connery’s Bond, Woody Allen and submarine sounds) to career choices, and though Coogan insists in interviews that he’s not nearly as brooding in real life, it’s difficult to tell in The Trip where fiction ends and truth takes over. Whatever the true Coogan is, it’s clear Brydon challenges Coogan, and that Coogan likes that, needs that. Watching him slowly arise from a serious funk is moving and, more important, hilarious. Bring on the long-promised Alan Partridge movie.