The new Michael Winterbottom film, starring beloved duo Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden, is at times hilarious and often insightful, if not a little slap-dash. Meaning? Well, it’s been put together quickly and simply with a disarmingly straightforward premise: Two actor frenemies named Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden (basically playing slightly ridiculous versions of themselves) go on the road in Northern England for a promotional food tour. Hilarity ensues. But is that hilarity a product of a series of escalating mishaps otherwise known as plot? No. There is no plot. There is a series of locations, a series of over-the-top gourmet meals featuring the likes of duck fat lollipops, a series of Coogan one-night stands, and a series of very funny conversations.
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.