By Marc Glassman
Michael Winterbottom, director
Starring: Steve Coogan (Steve Coogan), Rob Brydon (Rob Brydon) and Margo Stilley (Mischa)
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, the stars of the new British comedy The Trip, make magic together. No, they don’t pull rabbits out of hats though I wouldn’t put that past them. What they do is much harder: they make people laugh out loud. Repeatedly. With gossamer thin material, these average looking 40-something Brits can conjure guffaws from normally sane, even shy, individuals. If that isn’t sorcery, what else can it be?
The two are astonishingly verbally adept–and more than willing to take each other on. While traveling from London to the Lake Country and back, sampling great meals for a journalistic piece Coogan has to write–yep, that’s the plot—the two engage in anecdotes, songs, lots of sparring and an even more impressive number of impersonations.
Brydon is a master impressionist, who can “do” a range of British stars, though his favourites tend to be ’60s spy icons Michael “Harry Palmer” Caine and Sean “James Bond” Connery. Coogan can’t exactly match him but he comes close and is actually funnier when he raises the ante by doing a shtick imitating all the actors who have played Bond from Connery to Craig.
What makes The Trip work so well is the tension between Coogan and Brydon. Coogan is the bigger star and he takes pains to show it. In Britain, his comic character Alan Patridge established him in the ’90s and he’s gone on since then to success after success on television with new shows and personas. Brydon has done well in a similar comic vein but he’s never created a character to match Patridge. Their recognition of each other’s status adds a much needed edge to the friendship.
Director Michael Winterbottom conceived The Trip as a follow-up with Coogan and Brydon to their first collaboration, the very quirky adaptation of Tristram Shandy called A Cock and Bull Story. Although it’s being released as a film in North America, The Trip ran as a six part TV series last winter on BBC 2. The show was nominated for a number of awards with Coogan picking up a BAFTA for his performance.
Will The Trip work as well in North American theatres? I think it will do very well in Canada where this sort of witty material has a history. In the United States, I suspect that the slapstick of The Farrelly Brothers (There’s Something About Mary, the upcoming Three Stooges) will trump Coogan and Brydon.