There is a point in The Trip when the comedy stops becoming a meta romp and is revealed to be a more dramatic look at these two men. The argument formed is wondering if this is even a comedy, is this even an accurate portrayal of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, or does it really matter.
In this edited version of their TV show, it’s all up to you. Director Michael Winterbottom is an expert at this point on how to gently nudge these two into fascinating stints of improv comedy. The premise is that Steve agreed to write restaurant reviews in order to impress his girlfriend, but she’s in America and who knows when she’s coming back.
Out of options, Steve invites Rob to join him on this weeklong trek of different meals and they continue to get on each other’s nerves. Their conflicts are very British as nothing leads to a screaming match, but they passive aggressively “tolerate” each others annoying qualities. Rob is constantly impersonating various celebrities like Sean Connery, Woody Allen or Al Pacino. Steve is the same vain jerk as seen through his Alan Partridge persona.
Throughout the ride, Steve is always trying to compete with Rob including the hilarious bit where they argue about Michael Caine’s voice. Even though Steve is easily more famous, the insecurity is neon. Coogan has explored the emptiness of fame plenty of times (and so has his peer Ricky Gervais). What is added in this volume is the warmness of Rob. He’s a goofball who rarely has a straight conversation, but he’s genuine. It’s clear why his family loves him and why he has the patience to stay friends with Steve.
It’s not a perfection transition into a feature film. Parallels that would be better if spread out over a five episode series, feel repetitive in this format. Surprisingly they still accomplish the passage of time successfully. It’s not just a “best-of” because they wisely left in dull moments in addition to the lively ones. This creates a completed week where two fascinating men learn something meaningful or they realize that the other one better have learned something meaningful from this.