"The Trip" is a mostly improvised road movie set in the English countryside which sticks the audience right between two brilliantly hilarious comedians in the throes of midlife as they eat, riff, jab and loquaciously dissect adulthood, fatherhood, relationships, their careers and Michael Caine.
Playing loose versions of themselves, Steve Coogan ("Tropic Thunder") and Rob Brydon ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels") unravel, examine and amplify the bonds, potshots, stunted intimacy, petty jealousies and wild humor shared by close male friends well beyond the boundaries of the surface-level absurdities of something like "The Hangover Part II."
The setup for the movie is simple. Coogan has been asked by The Observer to write a series of reviews of various restaurants spread out across different rural backroads. He reluctantly invites Brydon along after his preferred "plus one" - his American girlfriend - abruptly returns to New York.
Not all of us are comedians, actors or writers, but Coogan and Brydon come off as extremely relatable characters in other ways. For example, neither is any type of genuine "foodie," which provides a nice jumping off point for some of the film's comedy, as they do their best to fake it. Incidentally, I saw the "The Trip" with a former chef. It made both of us hungry.
"The Trip" succeeds in recreating that road induced atmosphere of misty exhaustion where companions united in life by a unique blend of circ*mstance, habit, affection and rivalry drop all pretension and end up talking about each other's funerals in profound and ridiculous ways, landing decisively penetrative verbal blows and loudly singing bad songs in absentminded unison.
The centerpiece of the movie is a scene where Coogan and Brydon engage in a battle of wits fought with dueling Michael Caine impressions. As they criticize, cajole and encourage each other on in equal measure, it becomes glaringly apparent that this is a movie for adults who enjoy the casual athleticism of intelligent, informed conversation. Which isn't to say "The Trip" is stuffy. Far from it.
There's booze, casual sex and even cocaine in "The Trip," but it never feels like a party. It feels like real life. With a running time of nearly three hours, the movie could have easily overstayed its welcome. Instead it hits perfect notes as it works through a series of themes and ideas in a relaxed fashion (including more than one ponderous dip into the darkness of career-minded loneliness) in ways that are only strengthened by the excessive running time.
The somewhat comically named Michael Winterbottom directed "The Trip" and apparently the trio made a similar movie together called "Tristram Shandy: A C*ck and Bull Story," which I haven't seen. There's also a British TV series called "The Trip," which starred Coogan and Brydon, but I haven't seen that, either. The closest references for me were "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (which Coogan appeared on once) and more specifically, Ricky Gervais' flawless series, "Extras," which incidentally featured Brydon in one episode. "The Trip" mines comedy, pathos and soapboxing from many of the same mental spaces.
The phrase "slice of life" is generally employed as a lazy generalization of a certain type of story. While "The Trip" isn't Steinbeck, it absolutely fits that "slice of life" description.
Few movies have as completely enveloped me in someone else's day-to-day minutiae while serving up equal measures of entertainment and self-reflection on the day-to-day minutiae of my own life. It's one of my favorite primary functions of cinema ('though certainly not the only one) and watching "The Trip" reminded me of how infrequently it's done this well.