Cobbled together from a six-part BBC2 miniseries telecast last fall, The Trip is a talkative faux-reality road film largely improvised by funnymen Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing versions of themselves, under the direction of Michael Winterbottom. The riff seems to have spun out from Winterbottom’s 2005 adaptation of Tristram Shandy (which featured Coogan as Tristram, as well as “Steve Coogan,” and Brydon appearing both as himself and Uncle Toby), but the narrative is considerably more straightforward.
When his American girlfriend cancels, Coogan—who has supposedly been hired by the Observer as a celebrity food critic—invites frenemy Brydon to accompany him on a week-long eating tour of Yorkshire and Lake District restaurants. The excursion gets off to a humorous start when, due to a home-office snafu, it seems the fellows will have to share the bed at their first port of call. The verbal jousts are droll and the countryside is splendid, although the food—an endless succession of fussy little presentations—may be an acquired taste. “Duck-fat lolly,” Coogan says thoughtfully, sucking on some sort of caramelized dessert.
Although The Trip is a two-hander, the guys’ compulsive vocal impressions allow for the incorporation of other movies and a whole raft of actors—most memorably Michael Caine, several times the subject of their competing impersonations. Brydon calls his buddy “the king of understatement,” but it’s Coogan who has the more comic persona. Competitive, vain, and anxious, he complains of losing movie roles to Michael Sheen and dreams that Ben Stiller himself is summoning him to Hollywood. “I’d rather be me than you,” Coogan tells the good-natured Brydon, a loyal foil who even sets up ungenerous Coogan to deliver his imagined funeral eulogy.
Verbal as it is, The Trip could almost work as a radio show. Set pieces include an invented Shakespearean dialogue delivered in plummy Goon Show voices, a Wimbledon-worthy volley of Woody Allen one-liners, and, most touchingly, a lusty rendition of ABBA’s classic breakup song “The Winner Takes It All.” Visits to cottages that once sheltered Wordsworth and Coleridge inspire the lads to declaim poetry. Adding to the romantic aspect, Coogan often strides the moors in search of a cell-phone signal to call his girlfriend, while the domesticated Brydon, who seemingly has a more reliable network, engages in mild phone sex with his wife, using the voice of Hugh Grant.