Director: Michael Winterbottom
Stars: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Claire Keelan
Plot: Steve Coogan is assigned by The Observer to review six restaurants in the north of England. But when he splits with his girlfriend, Coogan is forced to reluctantly invite his slightly irritating friend, Rob Brydon.
Exported British comedies tend to feature the quaint, Four Weddings blueprint that Hollywood has convinced itself it knows so well. From the quirky, alcohol-soaked Withnail & I to the über generic Love, Actually, there are plenty of films set in Blighty that pander to the popular interpretations of England’s green and seemingly way too pleasant land.
The Trip is a re-edited film version of the TV show and essentially involves two blokes eating, doing a few impressions in between courses and then, well, eating again. The two in question are comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, who play parodies of themselves (they are credited as merely ‘Steve’ and ‘Rob’). ‘Steve’ has been asked by The Observer newspaper to review six restaurants across Cumbria and Yorkshire, which gradually increase in Michelin stars and also by the size of the bill. When his American girlfriend Mischa (Margo Stilley) decides they should have a ‘break’, he calls everyone he knows (who are otherwise engaged) until he realises he will have to ask his friend ‘Rob’ who he finds rather annoying. The two then set out for the north on a gastro-odyssey, taking in a number of posh pubs and restaurants whilst trying to out-do each other in the impression stakes (no pun intended) at the dinner table.
Steve Coogan, best-known for being the fictional, outrageous Radio Norwich DJ Alan Partridge appears to be bitter and irritated by almost everything that happens around him – most of which emanates from his travel companion. He has designs on a greater career path and one wonders if this is actually a real-life underlying concern for Coogan. Rob Brydon on the other hand, most famous for his portrayal of Welshman Bryn West in Gavin & Stacey, is eternally gleeful, enjoying the opportunity to do his ‘man-trapped-in-a-box’ impression at anyone who will listen, along with imitations of Sir Michael Caine (he has a ‘Caine-off’ with Coogan), Sean Connery and Woody Allen, amongst others.
When ‘Steve’ and ‘Rob’ are not practicing comic one-upmanship over their main course, they take in a little of the English countryside, most notably the breath-taking Cumbrian scenery. Coogan takes this a little too seriously and ends up doing a little bed-hopping along the way. The actual food critiquing itself takes a back seat as this is supposedly a film about witty banter and the value of human relationships.
Michael Winterbottom’s directing career is rather hit-and-miss. He was at the helm of the deeply affecting Welcome To Sarajevo but is unfortunately responsible for the horrific and frankly pointless 9 Songs. Winterbottom has little to do here except let Coogan and Brydon call the shots, especially where the restaurant-based repartee is concerned and can hardly be expected to push any boundaries.
The Trip appears to have been lapped up by critics across the Atlantic, but has mostly received a cool reception at home. This is probably because us Brits expect more from Coogan and Brydon than just a bunch of impersonations – these are entertaining at first, but quickly become tiresome and we yearn for something different from the same-old same-old at each location.
The premise of The Trip is a neat little idea that should work wonders, but just doesn’t cut the mustard (that’ll be the last foody pun, promise). Improvisational comedy is great when done well, but this needed two pros who know what it’s all about.