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Trip, The (2011)
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by Mel Valentin

"Eight-course meal not included with the price of admission."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 54TH SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Based on the critical (if not commercial) success of "Tristram Shandy" (a.k.a. "A Cock and Bull Story"), a collaboration between prolific Brit director Michael Winterbottom and Brit comedian-actor Steve Coogan (best known UK-side for his recurring role as TV personality Alan Partridge), the BBC commissioned Winterbottom and Coogan to, respectively, direct and star in "The Trip," a faux-documentary that fitfully explores the intersection between food, food travel shows and (self-indulgent) celebrity lifestyles. With "Tristram Shandy" collaborator Rob Brydon also back, the potential and promise for, if nothing else, a buffet of low-brow, middle-brow, and high-brow jokes and gags seemed like a given. Unfortunately, "The Trip" fails to deliver on its promise of taking viewers to a single meaningful destinations, metaphorically or literally.

Culled and trimmed from six, half-hour episodes into a feature-length film, The Trip centers on a semi-fictionalized version of Steve Coogan named, appropriately enough Steve Coogan. In his mid-40s, Coogan’s hitting a career crossroads. Film roles have dried up, while a potentially steady gig on American television as the lead detective in a police procedural (the 1,357th of its kind). Before Coogan makes a decision on the TV gig, Coogan accepts an assignment from The Observer to act the gourmand, travel to various eateries and restaurants in Northern England and report back with his bon mots, observations, and insights. Coogan only takes the assignment, however, to impress his younger American girlfriend, Misha. Coogan expects, assumes Misha will accompany him on his trip, but days before the start of the trip, Misha calls a time-out on their relationship and flies back to the states to ponder her career and their relationship.

With little time and few choices available, Coogan taps actor and friend Rob Brydon to accompany him on the trip. As developed onscreen, the fictionalized, idealized Brydon is everything Coogan isn't. He's a stable, secure family man (married and a first-time father no less) hesitant to leave his family behind for a week gallivanting in Northern England. The promise of remuneration and camera time for his efforts, however, are more than enough to accept Coogan’s offer. Coogan's divorced, a detached, indifferent father, a womanizer of sorts, and the subject of regular tabloid coverage for his bad-body behavior. The contrast in lifestyles extends to their interactions. Coogan's outsized ego, matched only by barely contained insecurities, makes him a difficult travel companion. Brydon's may be easier going, but he has an ego of his own, albeit one semi-comfortable with his beta status. Brydon isn't above (or below) needling Coogan, probing for and finding Coogan's weak spots, then mercilessly exploiting them.

Minor inconveniences, like a hotel reservation mix-up or a small-town museum that's about to close for the day, sends Coogan into near-apoplexy, leaving Brydon to step in and find an equitable solution. As befitting a food-related documentary/reality series, Winterbottom spends close to a third of The Trip's running time (or more) on Coogan and Brydon, ensconced in a rural restaurant, enjoying the finer things in dining life. Oddly, many of their meals, heavy, unsurprisingly, on meats, centers on or includes scallops, usually seared. Dinner-time conversations shift from food to personal lives to careers and points in between. Dinner time, not to mention car time, gives Coogan and Brydon the opportunity to bring out their impersonations of famous actors, American and British: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Michael Caine.

What starts as semi-clever impersonations devolves, however, into verbal and head games. Coogan and Brydon try (and try again) to one up each other, criticizing the other's impersonation while extolling their own as the more convincing. Unfortunately, the impersonation scenes quickly become tedious from repetition, as do the games Coogan and Brydon play to one-up the other, making it hard, if not impossible, to believe that "The Trip" represents the best material Winterbottom could cull from the six episode, three-hour series. The tedium of a three-hour series, even one spread across six nights and six, 30-minute segments, must have been close to unbearable (not surprisingly, ratings dropped from week to week).

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originally posted: 06/21/11 09:28:48
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 14th Annual European Union Film Festival For more in the 14th Annual European Union Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival Boston 2011 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2011 series, click here.

User Comments

6/18/13 Annie G One feels a bit on the outside watching this, but still fun. 4 stars
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  DVD: 11-Oct-2011


  DVD: 11-Oct-2011

Directed by
  Michael Winterbottom

Written by

  Steve Coogan
  Rob Brydon
  Claire Keelan
  Margo Stilley

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