Two buddies tap into the joy of banter—and not much else—in this converted BBC mini-series
In 2005, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon made a film. In 2011, they take a road trip. I’m referring here not to British actors Coogan and Brydon, who have between them made quite a few films and (one assumes) taken a great many trips. Rather, I refer to the eponymous characters, also actors, played by the duo, first in Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and now in The Trip.
In Shandy, Coogan and Brydon dove into a literary wormhole, a scattered and incomplete film-within-a-film based on Sterne’s famously discursive fictional autobiography. At the close of the film—after the ill-timed conception and grotesquely forcepped birth and fenestral circumcision (not presented, of course, in that order)—the two lightly fictionalized performers sit in an empty screening room, shooting the shit: Brydon offers an Al Pacino impression; Coogan critiques it and offers his own; and so on.
The scene is among the best in the movie, so it is perhaps little wonder that Shandy director Michael Winterbottom decided to revisit the Coogan-Brydon dialectic in expanded form. Originally broadcast as a BBC series of six half-hour episodes, The Trip has a conceit so slender that unless viewed from the right angle it vanishes altogether: Coogan, approached by a magazine to spend a week reviewing restaurants in England’s Lake District, accepts the gig because his girlfriend is a foodie. When she decides they need a break from one another and moves back to America, he decides to bring along last-resort, quasi-friend Brydon instead.