Sometimes, there is no comedy without a bit of melancholy. A friend once told me that comedy is tragedy; of course implying that if you have the first one, then you must also have the other. Comedians do stand-up and musical performances to entertain us; often times through letting out their sorrows and past pains through humor. I appreciate this; and when I'm in an observant mood, I feel sympathetic. Now, if only most comedy films could work like the people who are often times behind them. Great comedians get their inspiration from living life; and quite a few of them contribute to screenplays that end up being pleasingly funny. Once in a while, you get something deeper; a film that looks, quite insightfully, into a gender, a social class, or into humanity itself. But...you don't get this kind of film often; although we must embrace them as they come.
"The Trip", a feature comedy film adapted - or rather cut - from a UK miniseries of the same name, is very special for its kind. It explores all that is funny as well as what most would call...desolate and empty. Here, we have the story of two comic actors (Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon) who play alternate versions of their real-life selves. Coogan calls up Brydon to go on a trip with him to tour North England's cuisine after everyone he knows will not commit; and the fun begins there. They travel by far and by car. Visiting many famed restaurants in the country, the two actors engage in many comic, hilarious, witty conversations in which they either critique the food and its makers or...speak of something else.
I like good food. I like British comedy. And yes, I even like Steve Coogan. You could say that "The Trip" had an appeal from the very beginning, which is why I was so eager to watch it. It's a good feeling when a film that looks good ends up being great; and I am glad to say that such a thing happens here. With the help of a clever script, a respectable sense of humor, and food that looks about as good as it probably tastes; the material is given more depth, more charm, and by the end, it's almost impossible not to love.
But of course, maybe you wanted a conventional comedy. You might be disappointed; which would be such a shame, because this really is a pleasantly wonderful surprise, and I think everyone should be able to embrace and enjoy it with open arms. But I said it was as melancholic as it was funny, and hell, I wasn't kidding. Get ready for equal doses of the depressing and the hilarious. It's not quite enough to ruin your appetite for the day (or night) that awaits you once it's run its course, but even though for the most part it's whimsical and effectively funny, the film isn't for everyone.
I loved it. I might be one out of a few who does. Plenty of critics and members of its audience liked it, yes, but not many of them will find something...more. Maybe I am imagining things; or maybe "The Trip" really is the complex, richly detailed, and artistically relevant piece of work that it is. When a film can affect you in a way that provokes you to both laugh and cry in equal measures, there's always something to be said; but unlike most comedies of this year that double as competently crafted dramas, here is a film that overachieves. I cared about the characters, which is why I observed their struggles and conversations from a number of different angles, and for what it is, this is a pretty well-told story. Coogan is entering a mid-life crisis; and he's alone on that. Brydon seems fine. He is married, he has children, and when he returns home from the titular trip, things will be as they were yet again. But the question remains: will poor Coogan ever be happy? I am not sure why exactly I felt this way; but by the end of the movie, I was almost in tears. The drama had reached this movie-goer; and I think it's one of the best films of the year if only for that factor alone.
But of course...the comedy; if one must think happier thoughts amongst all the silent sadness. Coogan and Brydon exchange richly-written dialogue that often involves either celebrity impersonations (the trailer mockingly credits many famous names of actors, and then it shows the impersonation that belongs to each one), the talk of food, the talk of women, or life itself. There's some philosophy to this film, buried underneath its comedic exterior, you just have to look closer and harder.
Coogan also dreams a few good times in the film. Once, there is a surreal sequence in which Coogan is speaking directly to the actor Ben Stiller; who gleefully names various filmmakers - both in duos and not - whom Steve might get to work with. This scene exists in a world where Coogan meets the success that he hopes for in reality; but it's still a part of the movie that exists to be both funny and relevant. Another dream involves Coogan's unseen back-stabbing father; who "lovingly" writes about his son and headlines the newspapers with his central point.
Don't go hungry and don't go close-minded; because the food looks delicious, and "The Trip" is not your average comedy. I admit that those Brits are some crafty bastards; they make some of my favorite comedy films ("Shaun of the Dead", "Hot Fuzz", and "Death at a Funeral", to name a few). And this is one to take note of; to remember, and I shall not be forgetting it any time soon. It compels me to see "Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story"; the film that it acts as sort of a semi-sequel to, in some respects. I hear it's a great film, and if I found this film to be out-of-this-world sensational, emotional resonant, and completely true to life; then perhaps I'll find that one at the same level of sheer quality. I don't know about you; but I'd say there's a pretty good chance that it will be.