THE TRIP (Michael Winterbottom). 107 minutes. Opens Friday (July 1). See listing. Rating: NNNNN
Have you met Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon? Not the esteemed British comic actors, mind you, but the bickering, one-upping versions of themselves they played to perfection in Tristram Shandy: A Cock And Bull Story for director Michael Winterbottom, who found endless comic potential in their specific anti-chemistry.
Winterbottom reunites the duo in The Trip, a dry, silly road comedy distilled from his six-part BBC miniseries of the same name. And the pleasures are considerable.
The set-up is simplicity itself: insecure, status-chasing Coogan invites oblivious git Brydon on a week-long tour of restaurants in the north of England for the Observer magazine.
Having just separated from his girlfriend, Coogan sees the trip as an opportunity to boost his ego by sleeping with chambermaids and allowing himself to be recognized as the comedic superstar he believes himself to be, all while lecturing Brydon about his difficulty landing roles in the Hollywood blockbuster projects.
But there’s something else going on underneath the chummy one-upmanship. The Trip also functions as an inquiry into what comedians want out of fame, and what it costs them. Coogan’s desire to cross over from alternative comedy godhead into the mainstream contrasts sharply with Brydon’s relaxed, unhurried attitude to success, and Winterbottom allows both men the space to explore what that means.
You could describe it as Sideways, with the alcoholism replaced by duelling Michael Caine impressions, but that wouldn’t really do justice to what Coogan and Brydon achieve here.
The Trip is transcendent, its hours of passive-aggressive squabbling all the more entertaining for being largely improvised. It’s the comedy of the year.