There seems to have been a spate of contemplative, observational British movies in 2010. I caught Another Year in it’s original American run, but I’ve only just come to see The Trip now. And I have to say at if you’re going to pick one or the other, see this one.
The setup is simple: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon — or mildly fictionalized versions of themselves — set off on a road trip to tour and review some fine restaurants in northern England, or as one road sign puts it, “The NORTH”. It’s basically a spin-off of the BAFTA award-winning BBC series of the same title and premise — which I’m now sorry to say I haven’t seen — as well as an earlier film, _A Cock and Bull Story_, also directed by Michael Winterbottom.
Coogan and Brydon are both actors — obviously, but also in the film — but neither one is an American household name. The situation may be slightly different in Britain, but not very much so. Brydon has made his peace with this, but Coogan is restless. He’s divorced; his son is getting into trouble; his career is on the rocks and heading down as he moves every further past forty; and his most recent girlfriend, Mischa, has returned to America. In fact, this whole trip was originally meant as a last ditch effort to resuscitate their relationship, and Coogan himself is a bit out of his depth with regards to critiquing the food.
The two note early on in the film that it’s 2010; everything has been done before, and all you can do is do it better or differently. And indeed they owe an enormous debt to My Dinner with Andre, with a dash of Sideways thrown in for good measure; they even name-check Alexander Payne at one point. But rather than discuss philosophy directly, we get a glimpse into the separate lives of two friends who have grown apart over the years, and we get to see where their paths have taken them.
And then there’s the third character: the countryside of the North itself. Winterbottom and cinematographer Ben Smithard highlight the landscapes from lush green fields to great rocky limestone cliffs. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous, and shot in all sorts of lighting and weather. Coogan himself seems to know a fair bit about how these landforms arose, though Brydon is less interested in that than Coogan is in Brydon’s impressions. He would like — and to see the pictures on screen one can hardly blame him — to take just a minute in peace to experience the spectacular views.
Not only do the exteriors look like a travel brochure, the meals themselves could make a fine article in _Gourmet_ or (now that that illustrious periodical has gone under) _Bon Appétit_. I’d actually be interested to know if there have been bobo runs on the restaurants, towns, and culinary styles featured in the film, like there were after _Sideways_ on the Santa Ynez valley and pinot noir wines.
This is not a movie in which very much happens. It has no action, no farce, no tragedy. It is contemplative and calm, and funny in a gentle way that helps escape awful, ominous reality, but in its escapism reminds us where we’re all coming from. It’s a long, strange trip, but one well worth taking.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.