THE TRIP, Steve Coogan & Rob Brydon

Year:  2010 (as TV series in Britain); 2011 (edited & released as film).

Director:  Michael Winterbottom

[There is now The Trip To Italy (2014), with Coogan sporting a shorter, younger-looking haircut, but I haven't seen it.]

Before and after watching this film, I was curious about other people's responses to it. It's the sort of film that highly divides viewers, not because it's extreme, but because it's anti-extreme: about relatively normal people (these particular British entertainers) doing relatively normal things (driving, dining, singing, arguing, paying a visit to parents, and being half of a couple, to say nothing of shagging strangers in the hotel*). I found the various reviews, scattered around the Internet, interesting -- mainly because I disagreed with the critical ones (and even a few of the others).

To start with, we are told by one positive reviewer that Brydon's and Coogan's are 'clashing personalities'. Well, no, not exactly. I kept remarking (it's a DVD for home consumption, after all, and Mr Brenchley and I do comment at times) on how each character was a mirror held up to each other. They didn't so much clash as be candid; they didn't abrade irritatingly so much as egg each other on, irresistably. The very friction between them was a stimulant -- to them as characters and to us as viewers.

Other Trip reviewers complained, mildly, about 'repetition'. I didn't see it. The film has themes and memorable elements, as does every relationship and the sorts of conversations one has in those relationships: again, to the extent that there was any repetitiveness, it was mirroring real life. (Ever noticed that when you get ready in the morning, you have to search among your clothes, swish water about your person, and confront the tedium of cleaning your teeth?) The film made me laugh and, when I wasn't laughing, it made me feel happily engaged. I did not for one moment think: 'allo 'allo, ain't we seen this before? Why are they in the car again?  Doing impersonations? And chatting to each other?

One professional reviewer, quite oddly, mentioned the parent-visit scene as being 'over-long' and 'awkward'. It was a short scene, a small segment of the movie. Just how short does this reviewer think it should be?  And what exactly was 'awkward' about it?  --Aside from the fact that sometimes visiting people you don't know (Brydon, as he was just a hanger-on) or have little in common with (as might be surmised in the Coogan character's case) can be slightly awkward? Strange to construe an observation of the film as a failing of the film itself.  

To me, the visiting scene conveys the fact that, nice as one's parents may be, they have fulfilled their parental function, and really experienced grown-ups don't need Mummy & Daddy any more. And Mummy & Daddy are quite happy in any case to get on with their own lives. The very fulfillment of a parent's ambition -- to raise a child to adulthood and independence -- is a kind of anti-climax and negative reward. And on the child's side, gratitude is both hard to feel ('My life is for me./As well ignore gravity.' -- Philip Larkin) and a burden to live with. Does the middle-aged man care that his (fictional) mum had to have an hour's worth of episiotomy stitches after she gave birth to him, or that he broke her favourite figurine when he was ten and clumsy, or that his father always suspected that he was really the butcher's son? Doubt it. The suffering of the parents is not negligible, and sometimes never really goes away -- but the next generation always feels 'Hey, I was worth it'. Easy for them to say. Little scenes can tell you a lot, if you're willing to pay attention. The theme of what parents are willing to give up for the sake of the child is taken up again in the question of 'What if', discussed over a meal: Would Coogan accept an Oscar if his child were a bit sick (but able to recover) in exchange for it, or would he turn down all accolades as payment for his child's constant good health? The question is raised again, in a different form, at the very end of the film. Again, this is return, not repetition.

This is a strong unHollywood and even anti-Hollywood film. It's unHollywood first and foremost because there are no Big American Names (e.g. Julia Roberts), or Big Transatlantic Names (e.g. Helena Bonham Carter, who seems to have made a career out of being deathly pale and unsmiling, with dark hair), to draw in all & sundry and to interest American viewers. It's a resolutely culturally English film -- despite the fact that Brydon is Welsh and sounds it -- and despite the American girlfriend who is more absent than present in the action. (Unless Americans are very up on English comedy shows, they will not twig many of the references, and thus they will lose out on the laughs.) It's unHollywood because it has a premise rather than a plot, and does not tell you how to feel by the end of the movie, or what exactly you should make of the whole thing. And last but not least, it's unHollywood because it is set in winter, and all the beauty of the landscapes is a wintry beauty. Which makes, for this reviewer, such a lovely and refreshing change.

P. S. As mimics, both actors were astounding, but I did think that Coogan's Woody Allen impression was the one that really nailed it.

My rating:  VERY GOOD

*Listening to the Saxondale voice-over commentary (as a DVD bonus), it's quite clear that Steve Coogan wants us all to know that despite what Tommy Saxondale looks like (fake hair, false teeth, false belly, etc.), Steve himself does actually have sex appeal. Showing him 'out of costume' and, as it were, in his own character, we are given the further suggestion that a Coogan can be a woman-magnet, while also being spared graphic detail. (Saxondale is a television comedy series that post-dates Coogan's various 'Alan Partridge' programs.)