(UK TABLOID NEWSPAPERS OUT) L-R Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon pose in front of the winners boards at The Phillips British Academy Awards 2011 at The Grosvenor House Hotel on May 22, 2011 in London, England. (Getty Images)more pics The Bottom Line Should you see it? Yes.
Why? Coogan and Brydon's impression battles alone are worth seeing. Michael Winterbottom directed both Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in the great Tristram Shandy adaptation in 2005, and the three have reunited for The Trip, a 107 minute edit of what was once a TV series composed of half hour segments. Coogan and Brydon are "themselves" but this is not a documentary.
The premise is wrapped around a road trip the two take to Northern England to sample various equisite restaurants. Coogan was supposed to be accompanied by his girlfriend but she is called away on business and he invites Brydon instead. There is no credit for a screenwriter and it's plain that most, if not all, of this is improvised. What ensues on the trip is a classic game of one-upsmanship. Brydon is always "on" and seems to seek Coogan's approval in the early scenes, something not likely to happen. Brydon does an amazing Michael Caine impression that starts as the young Caine and evolves through whiskey and cigars to the present version we see in the Batman films. The impression comes back and Coogan challenges it with a great one of his own. Brydon proves a master at other impressions, Anthony Hopkins in particular. Although his Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman could use some work.
There are three triumphant scenes where the two hold impression duals starring Michael Caine, James Bond villians and Woody Allen. The dynamic between Coogan and Brydon is one of a kind. They look alike, sound alike, but are very different. Brydon is the sharp optimist, while Coogan remains the bigger success, but is still unsatisfied. He wants more serious roles, like the ones Michael Sheen gets, and secretly, believes himself and his career to be a massive failure.
Coogan is the complicated character and the juxtaposition with Brydon makes his exhausted body language all the more noticeable. It's a pleasure to watch him squirm through social awkwardnesses while Brydon remains blissfully uninterested in anything but cracking jokes and enjoying life.
The obvious film comparison here is with Sideways, and Alexander Payne gets a mention actually as an authentic auteur - someone Coogan thinks he should be working with. This type of talk reveals another level to the film. One where Coogan may have thought to himself, "Well, I can't get the roles I want, but I can make a film where I talk about why I deserve them." Sideways is an apt comparison except neither Coogan or Brydon is really more than casually interested in the cuisine they're eating. The quality of the food does not inspire the characters the way the wine does in Sideways.
The Trip also reminded me of Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes. Both allowed actors to be "themselves" in a cinematic setting where they were not bound by script or even story really. Coogan and Brydon both thrive in this environment and, although the impressions seem a bit of a one-trick pony by the end, the two friends remain hilarious to observe.