The Trip has only a wisp of a plot; you might not be surprised to learn that it was presented as half-hour TV episodes in Britain, rather than a full-length feature. Steve Coogan, having been commissioned to write reviews of restaurants in the north of England, and having been turned down by his girlfriend the foodie who chose instead to fly to New York, invites his friend Rob Brydon to be his guest.
The two comedians, playing characters named “Steve Coogan” and “Rob Brydon” (see also Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, also directed by Michael Winterbottom), drive through the winter countryside for a long week, stopping every day to dine on nouvelle cuisine.
In the car and at table the two banter. They jibe each other about their careers. They make self-effacing jokes about their age and lack of fame. Rob often resorts to doing impressions of Michael Caine, Hugh Grant, and BBC readers; and Coogan can’t stop himself from trying to outdo his friend.
The first time I heard Rob Brydon doing an impression, I admired how good he was. And the first time I heard him do the same impression twice, I imagined how insufferable he would be at a dinner party — let alone as a constant companion for a week. Of course, that’s part of the fun of The Trip — deconstructing comedy, as comedy.
The movie feels “real” — it feels like we’re actually watching two friends pretending not to notice our camera. That’s because the scenes were largely ad-libbed. But don’t mistake the characters for the actors. In the outtakes you can hear Steve and Rob referring to “they” and “them” when referring to their characters (and not “we” and “us”).
Winterbottom and his cinematographer Ben Smithard have good cinematic instincts. Intimate and close in the restaurants and in the car, the camera steps far back when Steve hikes down to a lake to try to get cell phone reception, or when they hike up a high moor for a break from eating and doing impressions.
The plot doesn’t require much of an ending — they finish their trip and go home. I suspect Michael Winterbottom might be as big a fan of Local Hero as I am; he seems to borrow its ending. It carries a hint of the emptiness and longing that inevitably follows an intense adventure such as Steve and Rob have had. It suggests that their friendship — indeed the entire film — wasn’t as superficial or contrived as it probably actually was.
The movie deconstructs comedy, but if you really want to deconstruct comedy, you absolutely must watch the 100 minutes of deleted scenes — especially the last hour which of which consists of six extended takes of the same scene, over and over. The repeated takes of Steve’s “historical epic” illustrate — in agonizing detail — just how ugly comedy can be. The scene in the film is funny. The first extended take is mostly funny. The second extended take is a little less funny. And by the sixth take, if you manage to make it that far, you’ll be ready to pluck your ears out.
Even if an hour of the same joke sounds horrible, do watch the first thirty minutes of deleted scenes. You don’t want to miss “The Cunt Song.”
There is a trailer on the disc. There is a poster gallery that looks like it includes concepts for non-U.S. markets — maybe British TV? There are some home movies from the shoot and from the actors climbing one of England’s mountains.
There is also something called “Food Cut” that includes food-porn footage of the meals the actors ordered. It’s just the preparation of their meals, with no narration and no explanation, just the name of the dish. It wasn’t very appealing to me, but undoubtedly has a certain audience among British foodies.
Picture and Sound
The Trip is not a movie you’ll use to show off your home theater. The movie was obviously shot cheaply and on-location. Home video presentation is very good but unremarkable.
How to Use This DVD
Watch The Trip. Go out to dinner at a fancy restaurant. Come back home and watch the deleted scenes. See if you can stomach all six takes of the “historical epic” joke.