Come, come, Mr. Bond, you derive as much pleasure from killing as I do.
In the annals of buddy road trip movies, none feature as many Wordsworth references, Michael Caine impressions or scallops as The Trip. Steve Coogan plays himself, or a version of himself, setting off for a week-long tour of northern England’s finest restaurants. His original companion, his girlfriend Mischa, has not only backed out — she’s gone to the States. Steve calls up his friend Rob Brydon, playing himself, or a version of himself, and — after making a point of telling his friend how many people he asked before settling on Rob — asks Rob to join him.
So begins The Trip, a meandering, hilarious expedition that’s surprisingly moving for a film in which not much happens. While the brooding Coogan and overbearing Brydon only occasionally amuse the other, their constant stream of impressions — which run the gamut from Al Pacino to Roger Moore to Stephen Hawking, and seem to comprise over half the movie — are a riot for the viewer. This game of seemingly meaningless one-upmanship works on two levels. For anyone who’s ever spent a week-long road trip with someone, this is exactly what the conversation devolves into: running gags, sophomoric humor and inside jokes that are bewildering to outside company (as when Coogan’s assistant Emma and a photographer join Steve and Rob for lunch).
But the weight of the film, and its occasional wistful tone, come from the unspoken competition between Steve and Rob to convince the other of his own contentment. Whereas Steve is always calling his agent for reports on more artistic roles (he dreams that Ben Stiller tells him all of Hollywood’s “auteurs” want to work with him), Rob spends his nights calling his wife, doing a Hugh Grant impression in a mock attempt to arouse her. One is restless, bitter, searching; the other settled, happy, content.
Director Michael Winterbottom, adapting his TV series of the same name, gives both men a fair shake. The film is Coogan’s, but the last scenes we see are of him alone in his London apartment, while Brydon is sharing dinner with his wife, cozy in domestic warmth. The Trip also features gorgeous scenery, making England look like the Rocky Mountains.
It’s hard to pick our favorite scene, but if pressed, it’d be this one: