Last year a show aired on British television called “The Trip,” starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, who survey the haute cuisine scene of Northern England. The six episode series ran a combined total of 180 minutes, footage that was then edited down to 107 minutes for the theatrical release of THE TRIP, making the story available to a worldwide audience not as intimately familiar with Coogan and Brydon as British viewers are – something Coogan attributes to the fact that he doesn’t work with directors, he works with auteurs. Of course, this is according to the Coogan playing the fictionalized, exaggerated version of himself, the unrepentant egomaniac audiences loved in TRISTRAM SHANDY, a shtick made popular stateside by Larry David in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and in the UK by Ricky Gervais in “Extras.” How true to self Coogan and Brydon’s performances really are is up for debate, but I hardly think it matters. We get as much pleasure from watching their quips and comebacks and theatrical indulgences as they evidently get in making them.
I’ve heard fans of the TV version say the 107 minute cut is too rushed, that the six episodes allow for more poignancy and nuance, more room to breathe. I’m all for slow pacing and nuance and breathing room, but 107 minutes of light table side banter, even between two very witty and entertaining people, seemed more than long enough to me. There is a vague, underlying plot that juxtaposes Brydon’s happy family life and what Coogan calls his mediocre career, with Coogan’s self-proclaimed bouts of genius yet relatively lonely personal life. Still, most of the screen time is devoted to these two men as they pick their way through ridiculously over art directed meals at a host of pretentious restaurants, yet fail to comment on the food or the dining experience itself. In fact, the food is so overwhelming as opposed to their conversations that the premise of roadtripping to all these restaurants seems superfluous and disappointingly device-like. THE TRIP may win points among Coogan fanatics and those who would never admit that any artful film might actually, in fact, be a bit of a bore, but if you want to see Coogan and Brydon banter at their best see TRISTRAM SHANDY.