Last week I watched the Steve Coogan / Rob Brydon film The Trip and discovered what millions already know, that these two are amongst the funniest British comedians of their generation. More than that, they would have to both be amongst the brightest.
How pretentious it is to say that The Trip is intelligent comedy for intelligent people, but who cares when it is as true and as realised as this film.
Originally a six-part made-for-tv sitcom, director Michael Winterbottom edited the series into an acclaimed feature-length film where fictionalized versions of Coogan and Brydon drive around northern England over the course of a week reviewing luxury restaurants for The Observer newspaper. Much of the dialogue is improvised and while on the surface it might seem like The Trip is just an excuse to let these two master impersonators loose on their Michael Caine’s, Richard Burton’s and Hugh Grant’s, scratch the surface and there’s a whole lot more going on.
With its love-letter to the beauty of the north of England plus its commentary on the themes of friendship, loneliness, fame and family, The Trip succeeds as much more than just a very funny film. It is also gently sad and in a non-preachy way, has a surprisingly buoyant moral compass. Coogan’s character is outwardly more famous, assured, successful and rich than Brydon’s version of himself, but when The Trip ends and you see Coogan alone and lonely in his blatantly expensive penthouse apartment and Brydon happy and contented with wife and child in a modest suburban house, the age-old lesson of what’s important in life still seems fresh.
As highly recommended as any British comedy I’ve seen in years, The Trip also contains just about the best comedy scene, film or TV, this side of Ricky Gervais, Steve Carrell or Larry David: “Gentlemen, to bed! For tomorrow we leave at daybreak!” Enjoy.
*June 2014 Update: The clip from the movie has been deleted from YouTube, but this clip is a still very good outtake.