September has been a difficult month for me for a variety of reasons. I’ve felt the urge, more than once, to just get in the car and start driving. Busy days make me crave open spaces. Noise makes me crave quiet. And stress makes me want that feeling of putting distance between me and the source of stress — I love the hum of the freeway streaming beneath my tires.

the trip poserA road trip hasn’t really been possible. So I thought I’d try the next-best thing — road movies. Did that scratch the itch? Well, yes. And, but some itches get worse with the scratching and now I really cannot wait to hit the road.

So far in September, I’ve seen two road movies. Locke, starring Tom Hardy, and this one. I’ll share thoughts about Locke soon. I’ll start with the one that I enjoyed more…

The Trip (2010)

Gentlemen, to Netflix! For tonight, we laugh at celebrity impressions!

Anne picked the movie last Sunday night, and I’m grateful that she did.

Michael Winterbottom, a cinematic chef whose specialty is that he has no specialty (he cooks up something completely different every time), teams up here with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon — two English comedians who bring out the best in each other — and tries his hand at a restaurant-tour/road-movie hybrid.

I’ve seen pieces of The Trip before — it existed first as a BBC television series. I loved what I saw, and hope to see the full run of the series at some point. But I’m pleasantly surprised to find that this string of excerpts — which could have been just an amusing “best-of” reel — congeals into a remarkably rich and complicated film. It works as a buddy movie, as a “foodie” film, as a meditation on a mid-life crisis, as battle of brilliant improvisational comedians, and as a surprisingly dry and bittersweet comedy about celebrity.

the trip 1By playing himself as an actor who has never quite found That Role, Steve Coogan has finally found That Role. His manages to make his melancholy funny and endearing, where it could so easily have made the film too bitter to be bittersweet.

Here, Coogan’s apparently been asked to explore the finer dining establishments in the north of England, a wild, green, and sometimes wild territory that will be unfamiliar to most moviegoers. So, having failed to persuade his assistant or any of his various on-call girlfriends, he invites his kinda-sorta-friend Rob Brydon, and hopes to find sexual adventures with the women in his various destinations.

Brydon — an actor I only knew from his role in the Jim Henson Company’s experimental fantasy film MirrorMask — turns out to be an inspired traveling companion. But first he has to kiss his lovely wife and beautiful child goodbye. This clearly sprinkles salt Coogan’s self-inflicted wounds. And that sets the tone for the trip: awkward tensions, arguments, frequent bursts of inspired banter, occasional stumbles into resentment and bickering.

With every turn in the road, Coogan’s apprehension of the emptiness in his pursuit of fame deepens. Thus, Coogan’s flings with hotel attendants, when they come, ring hollow and sad. And meanwhile, Brydon relaxes alone in his hotel room, flirting with his wife on the phone.

But as Brydon gives Coogan perspective on his less-than-superstar career, and Coogan coaxes Brydon to expand his culinary boundaries, these guys clearly mean more to each other than they’re willing to admit. And perhaps that’s why the glow of the movie’s warm heart wins out over its melancholy turns. I hope you’ve had those traveling experiences where you discover a friendship that works over long distances. It takes chemistry, patience, flexibility, musical compatibility, and an ability to be comfortable with silence. I don’t think I’d last a whole weekend with either one of these two, but for a 107 minutes I found them, as Michael Caine might say, “Very. Entertaining. Indeed.”

I might even be up for a sequel. Hey, look!

the trip 2I don’t want to spoil the highlights. Suffice it to say that if you haven’t already seen these two smack each other around with celebrity-impressions while sipping glasses of white wine, or watched them offer eulogies for one another in a cemetery, you have big laughs ahead of you.

Come to think of it, even if you have seen it, you’re likely to laugh even more when you revisit it with friends. It’s one of those films that’ll download its best lines into your consciousness so that they spring up in your own banter. There are so many quotable quips along the way, I couldn’t help but think of my favorite quotable buddy movie — Midnight Run. (While Brydon’s compulsive impressions of Caine, Connery, Connelly, and Pacino are great, in his calmer and quieter moments he’s Charles Grodin to Coogan’s De Niro.)

My own casual banter has been permanently injured by this pair’s inspired revisions to Braveheart-style exhortations like “Gentlemen, to bed! For tomorrow we rise at daybreak to battle!

Maybe you noticed.