A gentleman friend and I were pregaming at a cute West Village bar before going to see The Trip last week, and when it turned out he didn’t know anything about it, I summarized it thusly: “Two guys take a trip together, and one’s really chipper and the other one’s cranky… sort of like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” That’s how the movie is marketed — I really had to hunt to find a still that wasn’t Rob Brydon laughing maniacally and Steve Coogan looking harassed — but the two movies are so dissimilar it’s hardly worth the comparison. All they have in common, other than subject matter, is that they’re both hilarious in their own way.
What I love about The Trip is how finely nuanced the relationship is between Brydon and Coogan, who play more or less fictionalized versions of themselves. Fundamentally they’re very different people — Brydon is a family man who’s content with the measure of commercial success he’s achieved, while Coogan is a womanizer who’s still hungry for his breakout role as a leading man — but their dynamic is never just one note. Both characters take turns sliding in and out of annoyance, admiration, jealousy, indignation, and affection, often in the course of a single scene. I love it when movies let their characters be more than one thing and feel more than one thing toward one another, especially comedies, which often fall back on stereotypes for easy laughs.
Oh yeah: The Trip is also completely hysterical. Coogan and Brydon spend most of their time in the car or in restaurants trying to one-up each other with their impersonations of other actors or riffing on each other’s ideas (the scene that begins with them talking about wanting to film a costume drama in the picturesque hills they’re driving through almost made me pee my pants). The riffs are hilarious as stand-alone vignettes, but what gives the humor an extra layer is the underlying competitiveness that makes them want to pass their time together doing Michael Caine impersonations in the first place. There’s a quasi-double-date scene in which both men try to impress two women with the same routines that they’ve been trying out on each other in the car, and the women are polite but clearly not impressed. Not to get too meta, but I think the real humor and the real pathos of The Trip comes from each man’s awareness (or lack thereof) of his comedic skills and the ways each of them uses humor to get what he wants. Both men go on a metaphorical journey to complement the physical one, and the end of the film is pretty literal about the different places each of them ends up. I appreciate the balls it took to end a comedy on a darker note, but it also came across to me as a bit preachy about the dangers of putting one’s personal life on hold for the sake of one’s career, which, as a happily single lady, I take issue with. That’s not to say that Coogan doesn’t choose the bleakness he gets saddled with — by that point, it’s no mystery how he got there. I just wish Winterbottom had carried the subtlety of the first hour and forty minutes through to the end of the film.
All that said, it’s a very funny and very quotable film that sticks with you longer than your average comedy. Go see it on a date like I did, and try not to think about the fact that Steve Coogan looks like a Muppet and still manages to get laid more than you do.