Published Mar 11, 2013"All you can do is something someone's done before but do it better or do it differently." So says Rob Brydon near the beginning of this condensed version of the British mini-series, The Trip. And that's exactly what director Michael Winterbottom has made a career out of doing: putting his own spin on the familiar rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel.
In a way, that sentiment also speaks directly to the point of distilling the cross-country exploits of Brydon and Steve Coogan, as unlikely food critics, down to the best of what this concept has to offer.
Coogan and Brydon reprise the fictionalized versions of themselves first seen in Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story in this cheeky twist on the well-worn road movie buddy pic formula.
After his girlfriend backs out of a restaurant tour set up by UK newspaper The Observer, Steve Coogan calls up his friend Rob to fill in. Their antagonistic camaraderie is as much an extension of the theme of embellishing on the commonplace in service of the ego as are their blown-up personas and the pretentious haute cuisine they dismantle.
Much of the film is taken up by the surface narrative of two moderately successful actors with clashing demeanors – Coogan is the arrogant, broody "artist", while Brydon fills the role of the jovial lowbrow performer – constantly trying to outdo each other with celebrity impressions and singing contests. But buried amid all of that silly and occasionally funny yammering are some resonant truisms that reveal The Trip as something more poignant and dramatic than its comedy tag suggests.
All of their cock fighting serves to demonstrate the ways in which people attempt to manufacture a sense of dominance by trumpeting their own abilities and achievements while diminishing the accomplishments and aspirations of others. Part way through, this is reinforced by a random stranger trying to demonstrate arbitrary superiority by bombarding Coogan with factoids about the landmark they're visiting – the very unbidden act Coogan was inflicting upon Brydon moments earlier.
Both men continuously and desperately seek validation from everyone around them, but there is a stark contrast in how they feel at the end of the day. Coogan is lonely in his bristly need to be seen as a serious artist and in the insecurity born of a long distance relationship with a younger woman, while Brydon is content with a keen awareness of his own limitations and a wife who adores his generally unassuming goofiness.
Oh yes, and between all the Michael Cain impressions, Bond-offs and surprisingly perceptive bits of food for thought, they eat a lot of delicious looking scallops.
The Trip screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Food on Film screening series at 6:30pm on March 13, 2013. Saveur editor-in-chief James Oselund will be in attendance to offer insight on the world of food writing. (Mongrel Media)