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February 20, 2013

The Trip

by Franz Patrick


Trip, The (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Steve (Steve Coogan) is invited by The Observer to travel all over England and sample food from the best restaurants. His girlfriend, Mischa (Margo Stilley), is supposed to go with him, but she has to cancel because she is offered a big opportunity for career advancement in America. After everyone else turns down Steve’s invitation to accompany him, Steve calls Rob (Rob Brydon) and the Welsh happily accepts.

“The Trip,” directed by Michael Winterbottom, is largely uneven because with every other amusing scene, every ounce of comedy is drained to the point where it ends up testing my patience. The experience is not unlike listening to a friend tell a funny joke and then that friend feeling compelled to tell more jokes that are less funny.

Steve and Rob love to imitate famous people like Hugh Grant, Sean Connery, and Sir Ian McKellen. I do not think anyone can resist not laughing when they mimic Michael Caine’s voice to a tee. At some point, I could not look at them without laughing so I had to close my eyes in order to ascertain the subtle differences between Rob and Steve’s impression of the actor. Coogan and Brydon understand the importance of timing.

Unfortunately, the characters’ penchant for doing voices disrupt scenes designed for us to have the opportunity to get to know them in new ways. With every place they visit (and while driving to their destination), they just have to do one more impression and, worse, sing until their voices crack. It is like being stuck on a bad road trip because I had forgotten my iPod at home.

I understood that Steve and Rob feel the need to compete with each other. Singing ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All” is not a coincidence. They are friends (or consider themselves as friends) but there is a tinge of ugly jealously in their friendship. Most of us can relate to comparing ourselves with another person and wanting what he or she has. It does not even matter if it is over something so silly. What matters is that the feelings are there and they do not seem to go away. For example, Steve feels insecure about himself because although he is now in his mid-forties, he feels as though he has not attained the recognition that he believes is worthy of his talent. From multiple attempts to prove himself that he is good enough, he belts out certain comments toward Rob that can be interpreted as bitter, unnecessary, and uncalled-for.

I admired the film most when it embraces its melancholy tone. It is able to consider the big questions, in a genuine way, about being middle-aged. For instance, should one mostly look back at his accomplishments, big and small, or should one look forward to the possibilities? What is more important: a flourishing career or a family? Though the questions have a layer of sincerity, the way the film allows Rob and Steve to answer them are mostly played for laughs. But maybe they need to approach the questions in such a way in order to avoid breaking.

“The Trip” is wonderfully improvised by Coogan and Brydon, but about a dozen of the imitation scenes need to be excised to the make room for more characterization. A string of scenes involving mimicry probably works on the television show but given that most movies require a defined arc, especially ones dealing with insecurities, I could not help but feel it merely settling in half lethargy.

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