The Trip is cobbled together from the highlights (?) of the BBC2 series of the same name, documenting Steve Coogan, best known for his role as Alan Partridge, and . . . acquaintance (they’re not really friends per se in the film) Rob Brydon, a familiar face from a handful of other BBC2 comedies. The two hit spots in Cumbria, Yorkshire, and end at Holy Island. If you’re only partially familiar with any of the above, that’s because you’re not British. And while The Trip may still enjoyable, you are not its target audience. (I live in the UK currently, so I am only partially its target audience – but I guarantee about 25 percent of the jokes are completely unintelligible to most non-British viewers.)
Coogan and Brydon play “themselves,” or variations on themselves. “Coogan” is trying to turn his success in the UK into success in the US, and is on this trip to impress his never-seen girlfriend, whose last minute cancellation compels his producer to pair him with “Brydon,” a less famous but more secure actor (your best chance of recognizing him is the traffic warden that repeatedly gets knocked out in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels). While their conversations occasionally cover the fancy restaurants they’re supposed to be visiting or the scenery they’re seeing, most of the time they trade impressions – most notably of Michael Caine – and tease each other.
Even if you don’t know who they are or what they’re talking about, the film is still effective. It’s almost better to meet Coogan without any idea about how famous he is in the UK (very), and instead remember him from his bit role as the doomed director in Tropic Thunder. Although the two are presumably closer and less one-dimensional in real life, their relationship builds nicely to an almost moving conclusion, with Brydon delivering a heartfelt eulogy at Coogan’s pretend funeral.
The Trip to Italy, its sequel, has slightly diminishing returns. (Only my love of Italy – having lived there before, including two of the places they visit – compelled me to watch it.) The plot is basically the same but the characters swapped, with Coogan enjoying new-found confidence and Brydon going through a midlife crisis. While well acted, they’re both more believable playing the versions of themselves from the first film. In other words, The Trip to Italy is 22 Jump Street minus and self awareness.
But neither one is bad. Since both were cut down from slightly longer BBC2 series, they’re both repetitive but familiar. In fact, they’re two of the only comedies that capture that “hang out” vibe that so many sitcoms aspire to. So while I recommend The Trip even if you’re not British, it’s up to you if you want to hang out with Coogan and Brydon again.