Wednesday, September 22, 2010

TIFF Review - The Trip

The Trip is a movie that keeps lying to its audience. We were told it was a two-hour movie, but it's really a six-part British series. It's advertised as a road movie about two funny British actors touring restaurants, but it turns out to be much more.

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play two comedian friends named... Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Exaggerated versions of themselves, Coogan is a pretentious prick and Brydon is a passive-aggressive impersonator trying to make the best of a generally insufferable situation - being stuck with Coogan.

Now, put two funny guys together in a car, hotels, and restaurants, and you're guaranteed some laughs. They come in various forms throughout the film, Brydon's hit-and-miss impersonations, back-and-forth reconstructions of movie cliches ("We awake at dawn!"), commentaries on epicurean feasts, James Bond revisited, Coogan's acerbic critiques of Brydon, and the kind of humour one finds when two old friends start playing off one another. If the film was simply these two touring the north of England and shooting the shit, it would be enough for two hours of funny worth your time. But as the movie progresses, it becomes obvious this is only the shell of what's being presented.

Ostensibly a magazine-writing job, Coogan's ulterior motive for this trip was to romance his girlfriend. His girlfriend who has asked for a break and moved back to America to continue her journalism career. Having committed to the job, he's gone through his list of friends and ended up with Brydon. Between tasting menus, Coogan is on the phone with his girlfriend, his ex-wife, his son, and his agents. His professional life isn't where he wants it either. He juggles feasts with various relationships, career insecurities, and sexual conquests. Through it all is his old friend.

Brydon is a family man, with a wife and baby he adores, living the life of a celebrity of some fame, but without the international exposure or trappings of Hollywood recognition. He's content with this existence, it gives him a comfortable life, but without taking him away from those he loves. He has no desire for that flaring moment of super-celebrity, and in fact fears it - if it was to be achieved, how would he follow it? In many ways, he's positioned as Coogan's mirror-image - secure, content, faithful, he followed the path Coogan didn't take and found happiness.

The movie bounces between the awkwardness of two people who don't really get along, to peeks at the deep friendship they seem afraid to admit, to Coogan's personal issues. It is all tied together with humour and heart and gourmet food.

And what food. I'm anxious to see the full 6-part BBC series, because I can only assume it spends more time on those dishes. Six gourmet restaurants in the British countryside, beautiful locales (I now understand why the Brits emigrated to Canada - feels like home), and tasting menus that make me yearn for a wallet-busting restaurant visit.

If there's one complaint I have, it's that the point of the film seems a bit lost. It's part travelogue, part conversation piece, part road-buddy flick, and largely a comic showcase. But the bittersweet ending left me with one impression - The Trip is an excellent improvised study of fame disguised as a funny British road trip movie.

If you like wry British humour, gourmet food, and amusing, sometimes hilarious conversation, you definitely need to see this. Hell, if the thought of dueling Michael Caine impersonations appeals to you, you need to see it.

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