Culture: The TRIP Reviewed
A unique glimpse into the world of British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, The TRIP is also a study of the masculine persona; the inner longings of the vulnerable man-child whose potential is not yet fully realised despite himself.
British actor/comedian Steve Coogan has been commissioned by The Observer Magazine to do a travel piece taking in six restaurants around the north of England. His American (fictional) girlfriend, Mischa, has returned home, so instead he takes his mate Rob Brydon along for the drive.
What ensues is two hours (or six episodes) of culinary and comedic entertainment. It's very clever. Male bravado, memorable one-liners, dramatic recitations and several Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Robert DeNiro, Woody Allen, Anthony Hopkins and Al Pacino impersonations. For Coogan and Brydon, one-upmanship is sport.
"Broadsheet journalists have described my impressions as 'stunningly accurate'," boasts Brydon over a meal of scallops. "Well, they're wrong," chastises Coogan, suggesting that anyone over 40 who amuses themselves by doing impressions needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
While keenly aware of his ageing visage, Coogan lives in hope of being recognised for the Grade-A actor he is. "I don't want to do British TV," he tells his agent over the telephone, standing in a "literal and metaphorical" Boland trough. "I want to be in films; good films."
Mischa is a magazine writer mixing it with the editor of Esquire at parties while Coogan accepts strange women into his bed and takes a call from his ex-wife about his troubled teenaged son. "I meet women, I charm them, I seduce them, it's the aristocratic way," says Coogan. "Women are my windmills."
They are also his Achilles heel.
Over one meal, Coogan identifies with Samuel Taylor Coleridge's condition (Coleridge was discontented with domesticity, frustrated by his own success and turned to other stimulants, including opium). "It's difficult once you've achieved greatness to match that," says Coogan, who would rather have moments of genius than a lifetime of mediocrity.
"My career is not mediocre," retorts Brydon, who, by contrast, is the faithful family man content with his lot in life who has never smoked anything ("I would remind you of the time I had a Red Bull and Coke," he jests). Standing in a cemetery contemplating their funerals, Coogan gives an unkind eulogy for Brydon:
"Rob was an interesting guy, very funny, very entertaining, and yet, at the same time...there was something about him that was lost, that seemed unable to confront the reality of life...because behind every little, pithy, vaguely amusing joke is a cry for help."
Serious foodies might find the pair's immature descriptions of the dishes and beverages they're served annoying, but they lighten the mood. One green concoction containing mallow, whiskey, ginger beer and chilly "tastes of a childhood garden" ("Was there a lot of alcohol in your garden as a child? I'm sorry, Rob," quips Coogan), who suggests it has the consistency of snot.
Somewhat disconcertingly, as far as feminist thought goes, an endless stream of attractive, exotic women – hotel concierges, photographers – have been cast to posit Coogan as the lady's man who cannot be resisted. There is also drug use, and blasphemy (how easily "Jesus Christ" slips from the lips when he's not on your conscience), so this one is strictly for adults and those whose sensibilities are not easily offended.
The TRIP will have you guessing as to what has been scripted and what has not, attempting to replicate accents, and longing for a gastronomic adventure in the countryside. The scene in which Brydon returns home to his wife and baby daughter, vowing to never leave for longer than a weekend in future, contrasted with Coogan's melancholy return to a stunning apartment of solitude gives pause for thought.
In Coogan we see the narcissist given over to fleeting, untamable indulgences, while in Brydon we find comfort and hope. Coogan may get the girls but it's the morally sound Brydon who sleeps well at night. Despite this, we lament Coogan's inability to triumph over his inadequacies, to find a peaceful communion within himself and, perhaps, with God.
Recently screening in six parts on the ABC (the final episode screening tonight) and available on DVD, regardless of your beliefs, The TRIP will have you contemplating what is truly meaningful in life.
Girl With a Satchel