Review by Victoria Large
Posted on 12 May 2011
Source IFC Films 35mm print
Categories The 2011 Independent Film Festival Boston
Last year’s IFFB included a screening of director Michael Winterbottom’s deeply divisive film The Killer Inside Me, a sweepingly cinematic, staggeringly violent tale of murder and madness in Texas. The Killer Inside Me was still a hot topic of discussion in the queue for Winterbottom’s new offering The Trip, but the two films have next to nothing in common. Edited from a BBC TV series (one that I probably ought to track down), The Trip is a comedic travelogue of Britain’s Lake District that offers an appealing blend of snarkiness and self-reflection.
The film stars frequent Winterbottom collaborator Steve Coogan and Welsh comic Rob Brydon, both playing fictionalized versions of themselves (much as they did in Winterbottom’s 2005 effort Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story). After a falling-out with his American girlfriend Mischa, who was supposed to accompany him on part-business, part-pleasure tour of the Lake District’s restaurants, Coogan invites Brydon along as a substitute. (“I’ve asked other people,” Coogan confesses.) Brydon agrees and the two are off on an adventure that includes, among other things, gorgeous scenery; unusual food; competitive Michael Caine impressions; and in one memorable instance, hilarious use (yes, you read that correctly) of one of Joy Division’s finest songs.
There’s also a great deal of anxiety packed into the superficially breezy film. Coogan frets over the state of his movie career (he wants to work with auteurs, not appear as “the baddie” on Doctor Who) and obsesses over the disadvantages of reaching middle age. The comparatively more contented Brydon acts as a cheerful foil and occasional irritant - his enthusiasm for impressions leads Coogan to remind him that he can’t treat his life “like a Radio 4 panel show” - and it’s fun to watch the comics bounce off each other. At times the pair put me in mind of Gary Oldman and Tim Roth’s wonderful chemistry in the film version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and that chemistry is all the more endearing because of its authenticity: The Trip isn’t a documentary, but it is mostly improvised, meaning that we often really are seeing these two crack each other up.
Though The Trip has a melancholy side, summoning up specters of isolation and self-doubt as the men roll on through the north country, that tinge of sadness actually feels well-suited to the film’s free-associative style as well as its setting. There’s room here not just for a rousing Abba sing-a-long (or two), but also for a glimpse at Coogan’s parents glazing over as their son and his friend launch into an awkward flurry of jokes and impressions, an allowance for how desperate all of that humor can ultimately seem. And the harsh, if astonishingly beautiful, Lake District seems just the right place for all of this: the film is haunted by Wordsworth and Coleridge, whose achievements allow for a series of musings about art and what it means to be great.
It’s true that your enjoyment of The Trip may largely be determined by your affection for its leads and your tolerance for films that are content to ramble. It’s also arguable as to whether it was necessary for Winterbottom to transfer his television series from one medium to another. But for me, The Trip was a very pleasant journey indeed, as well as a testament to the versatility of Winterbottom’s gifts as a director.
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