Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip may have been the only project I was aware of in advance of the Tribeca Film Festival, although not as a feature film. I had only known about this project as a marvelous, 6 episode BBC series released last year, starring the brilliant Steve Coogan and the hilarious Rob Brydon. But this film is not a continuation of the story from the TV show, nor is it a “reimagination.” This is a collection of scenes from the TV series, chopped up and resequenced to create a theatrical movie. So the big question looms: does a 3 hour television masterpiece hold up when you cut it down to a 100 minute feature film? Read the full review to find out…
Michael Winterbottom, sublimely perfected the notion of multi layered meta-narrative in 2005′s Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. With The Trip, he lowers his sights from adapting an unfilmable novel to create simply a self aware reflection on the personal lives of this film’s (and incidentally, the aforementioned film’s) stars. The Trip stars unsung comic genius Steve Coogan, and popular TV personality Rob Brydon as exaggerated versions of themselves, eating and conversing their way through a dining tour of northern England. Along the way, they ruminate on aging, their respective levels of fame, and their general satisfaction with their lots in life. They also pass the time by trying to one up each other with their knowledge of English literature, their abilities to impersonate other celebrities, and other, generally silly conversations.
The film’s stars are often hilarious, with quick witted banter and a rapport that can only come from a crystal clear understanding of the others’ comic strengths. However, they also manage to turn in wonderfully understated dramatic performances in the film’s quieter moments. Coogan, who rocketed to fame as fictional chat show host Alan Partridge, is perpetually disheartened by the fact that he can’t seem to move beyond the shadow of this character. This, combined with a Peter Pan complex which keeps him pining for fame and validation (as well as young models and waitresses), makes him a particularly melancholy figure. On the other hand, Brydon displays a maturity that one would not expect coming from an actor whose success can be primarily attributed to catch phrases and gimmicky humor.
The technical components of the film are as understated as the performances, allowing for maximum effectiveness from the actors. The photography is simple, alternating between static shots of conversations and handheld shots of the chaotic action that occurs in gourmet kitchens. This transitional device, reminiscent of the shots of everyday mundanity in Ricky Gervais’ The Office, not only breaks up the sometimes long winded dialogue scenes, but interjects a bit of energy between them. There are also a number of grand, wide shots showcasing the solemn beauty of the moorlands of northern England. Such shots help to accentuate the isolation Coogan feels, as if his own talents go as unappreciated as the desolate landscape surrounding them.
The film’s editing is certainly noticeable, but not necessarily showcased. Winterbottom employs jarring jump cuts to play up the off beat comic timing and pensive drama throughout the film. Each scene leads in and out with enough silence to allow viewers to take in a setting, or revel in the aftermath of the backhanded repartee. At times a bit awkward, it is still a fitting technique, because it allows us to simmer in the squirm inducing discomfort, characteristic of British humor. But it also allows us to move on to the next scene quickly and without letting the film drag its feet. Unfortunately, because of the improvised nature of the dialogue, it is apparent that more than a few scenes have been abridged or truncated from much more expansive discussions.
The Trip does, in fact, hold up as a functional and very good movie, in spite of the fact that it was hacked down from a much grander whole. It is funny, compelling, and because of the singular nature of a feature film, stands on its own as a work of art. Though it may have some holes, they aren’t big enough to derail the film. Moreover, they are complemented by its original source material, which anyone who sees this film will certainly be driven to seek out. With any luck, The Trip will bring the recognition its stars so richly deserve.