The Trip

“All you can do is do something else that’s already been done but do it different or better.” This is Rob Brydon’s advice to Steve Coogan, both of whom are British comedians and talented voice impersonators. “The Trip” is their clever attempt to re-imagine the cheap laughs we usually get from impressions.

By saying we get cheap laughs from impressions, I do not mean to belittle the talents of Coogan and Brydon. In fact, they’ve shown in “The Trip” great versatility at convincingly portraying themselves in this quasi-mockumentary.

The question really is, how do you center a film around impressions? We all enjoy impressions, but they must be taken in doses, and they have little ability to convey actual storytelling. The genius thing about “The Trip” is how it is hardly a conventional narrative and yet does not seem completely aimless in its attempts to showcase these two comedians’ talents.

The film, directed by Michael Winterbottom, is not a documentary, but it does document the behind-the-scenes lifestyles of Coogan and Brydon. They embark on a road trip to Northern England to sample dishes from some of the best restaurants in the country. And on this excursion, there is little else to do other than entertain one another with what they’re best at: impressions.

Michael Caine, Woody Allen, Bond villains and ABBA ballads are all ripe for fodder. Coogan and Brydon have a ball in their giggle-inducing back and forth moments, each building and growing off substantial conversation (the way in which the pair challenge each others Michael Caine impressions and how his voice has changed over the years is one of the film’s highlights) rather than spontaneous bromance joshing.

And what sets “The Trip” apart from other bromances or road trip movies like it are the complexities found within Coogan and Brydon. A lesser film would peg one as the rational straight-man and the other as the comic foil doofus. Coogan is the lead, and Brydon does get on his nerves, but the two are more than one-dimensional characters designed to perform roles.

Rather, their conversation, without trying to oversell the film, evokes their own mortality. Here are these two people, each in their early 40s, waking up early every day, rigidly planning their drive to the next location, eating lunch and watching their food made (actually, only we watch the food being made, but there are a lot of shots of this process) and finally finding a signal to make phone calls home to their significant others and say how the other is annoying them.

Coogan, who is famous for being understated and cynical, seems to be the most irritated by this routine. And yet he is the one who says that “old people seek out aggravations” after an argument with an elderly woman upholding the strict rules of her museum. “The Trip” subtly shows Coogan wrestling with these philosophies of life, and the film’s curious and repetitive structure lends itself to that theme.

The problem however is that after about a week’s worth of the same routine and even the recycling of several impersonations, “The Trip” feels long and a bit tired. Its format would be better suited to a mini-series, with each day broken up into another episode. Go figure, “The Trip” was edited and adapted from a BBC mini-series unseen by me.

But there’s no denying that the impressions are hilariously memorable. Few comedies have performers as talented as this British duo, and that’s saying something for people whose skills derive from the talents and quirks of others.

3 stars