Returning to the exaggerated self-portraits that they created in director Michael Winterbottom’s meta-film Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon again play versions of themselves in this Michael Winterbottom film – created by editing down bits and pieces from the critically acclaimed six-episode television series of the same name. The Trip premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year to deserved accolades and is now being released to DVD by IFC Films.

As an actor, Steve Coogan has been increasingly endearing himself to British and American audiences alike over the past few years, slowly setting himself up as a dry, self-deprecating comedian along the lines of Ricky Gervais (“The Office” and “Extras”). In The Trip, Coogan has agreed to tour fine restaurants in northern England for The Observer, envisioning the assignment as a romantic getaway for him and his American girlfriend. But when she cancels on him at the last minute he finds himself traveling with his friend and fellow actor Rob Brydon (whom he unapologetically informs that he’s already asked several other people but gotten turned down). The roughly two hours of this film are mainly filled with Coogan and Brydon exchanging bitingly honest insults, riffing on their surroundings and attempting to outdo one another with their celebrity impersonations (especially Michael Caine).

There’s really not much to the plot, which seems like it would be a drawback, but actually feels refreshing. Neither of these actors is afraid to look awkward or self-involved (though Coogan bears the brunt of this, while Brydon often comes off as his light-hearted sidekick). Though the DVD blurb lists them as “the ultimate odd couple” I found them to be remarkably suited to each other. Perhaps their differences are more obvious in the complete series, but in this movie the characters seemed to genuinely enjoy each others company – laughing at each others jokes and building on whatever comedic scenario came up. The subtlety of the comedy lies in the fearlessness displayed by constantly repeating the same joke (the Michael Caine and Roger Moore impersonations go on incessantly, and never stop being funny) and addressing fame in an offhand way (in an especially memorable exchange Brydon asks Coogan if he would let one of his kids get a mild disease, like Appendicitis, in exchange for winning an Oscar). There are a few situational jokes that land very effectively as well.

The end feels not so much like a wrapping up as it does like the audience taking its leave of the duo. And this is much appreciated. Rather than putting a neat bow on a messy experience, or pretending that a short trip together will effectively change either of the characters forever, we simply leave them as they were. Some may find the story (or lack thereof) less than thrilling, but this understated piece of drama-infused comedy kept me laughing and provided a nice emotional impact in its closing moments.

Overall Rating: B+

To purchase The Trip, visit Amazon

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