The Trip, about two comedians who go on a foodie tour through northern England, was first broadcast in the U.K. as a six-part miniseries and then shaved down and shaped into a feature-length picture. The result is a colicky, melancholy comedy that is all shadings and little arc. It's terrific.
Dipping back into the meta-shenanigans of his Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, director Michael Winterbottom reunites that film's star and costar, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, once again playing fictionalized versions of themselves. The trip in question is orchestrated by The Observer, which commissions Coogan to review some of the north's finest restaurants. When his girlfriend bails out, Coogan, seething, asks Brydon to come along for the weeklong trip.
At first it's hard to figure why: The dyspeptic Coogan - arguably the bigger name, and certainly the better-known actor in America - skirts between being weary of his companion to openly contemptuous. Brydon, a sitcom and radio star in the U.K., has a dopey, open quality, and he seems blissfully uncomplicated, taking pleasure in the landscape, the food, his wife and newborn back at home, and his own celebrity impressions. Brydon is the yin to Coogan's prune-faced yang. Coogan's capper - that "everything's exhausting at this age" - isn't a punchline, it's a cri de coeur.
But these characterizations aren't established and then locked. Coogan has moments of such soulfulness that the jaw drops, while Brydon nearly breaks in a late scene that's like some manic bender.
The Trip doesn't carry much in the way of plot, and it rather refreshingly buries information that might have been molded into a more traditional narrative arc. One can imagine what a Hollywood scenarist would have done with what plays almost as an afterthought here, the fact that Coogan is mulling a job offer on American TV, which would necessitate a move away from his children. It weighs on his mind, like a lot of things do, but he doesn't give any speeches about it.
The point is the way these two damaged, lightly deranged humans communicate. Winterbottom is keenly sensitive to how connections spark or sputter between them - in the way Coogan warms most to Brydon in the car, where they don't have to make eye contact, or how a flurry of micro-expressions pass between them when a punctilious waiter references the "sack" of juice that a dish is nestled in.
I should mention that when it's not being desperately sad about Our Ever Advancing Age and the Inescapableness of Our Very Bad Habits, The Trip is also screamingly funny. Like I said, terrific stuff.