Just in time for the weekend, I recommend a film – either streaming on Netflix or in theaters – that’s good fun and also provides food-for-thought on fatherhood.
Directed by Michael Winterbottom, currently streaming on Netflix
A good road trip movie can be sublime. The characters’ literal movement provides a perfect metaphor for whatever personal growth or change they’re experiencing, while the various episodes of life on the road means that the film moves at a good clip, and allows for themes to build and deepen. The right traveling companions are essential for the movie to be a success, and in The Trip you’re in excellent company.
Steve Coogan, a middle-aged English actor who has only recently begun appearing in movies on this side of the Atlantic (such as Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder), plays a fictionalized version of himself. The start of the film finds him trying to recruit a partner for a jaunt through Northern England, a restaurant hopping tour that he’s been hired to write about, and which he imagined would be a romantic get-away with his young American girlfriend. At the last minute, the girlfriend headed back to the States, taking a break from their relationship, and Coogan ends up bringing along his buddy Rob Brydon, a Welsh comedian and actor less familiar in the U.S., who also plays himself.
The contrasts between the men are apparent from the start. While Coogan broods alone in his cool, all-white pad high above London, Brydon lives in a brick townhouse with his wife and baby daughter. When Brydon’s kissing his baby goodbye, Coogan puts on the gas with a roll of the eyes, and the mismatched pair head off into the English countryside, beautifully filmed and scored to British pop from the 80s.
Coogan, we quickly learn, embodies The Artist – wanting desperately to be taken seriously, to have key parts in great films, and to have the freedom to pursue his hedonistic desires. He has clipped, awkward chats with his girlfriend, whom he cheats on, and a warm, if brief, talk with his pre-teen son. Brydon, on the other hand, is a populist – an entertainer who built a television and radio career on impressions and silly-voiced character bits, and who engages in sweet, playful banter with his wife, whom he calls each night. Brydon doesn’t do drugs, pursue women, or have a problem mugging for his fans, and he eats dish after dish of scallops. Coogan, on the other hand, does all of the above with wry gusto, and prefers game.
Which one is happier? It’s a question that lies underneath many of their exchanges. One thing’s for sure – both men are funny, and intensely competitive. Even their jokes become an opportunity for one-upmanship, as they repeatedly argue over who does the best Michael Caine impression. And both men are, in their extremes, a little annoying, and desperate. Coogan wants so much to be cool, Brydon wants so much to be liked.
Their each vying to out-Michael Caine the other becomes increasingly hilarious and over-the-top, but interspersed as these fights are with deep talk about the directions their lives have taken, it’s clear the stakes for these men are higher than just laughs. The men seem to be weighing their life against the other, wondering, as many guys do, is it better to settle down or be a bachelor? To go your own way, or follow the crowd? To focus on family, or focus on career?
In the way of men having a heart-to-heart, Coogan and Brydon don’t talk too long about serious subjects before cutting the emotional ice with a quip, a bust, or an awkward silence they fill with music. The two actors inhabit their roles completely, bringing full dimension to what could have been flat, reductive stereotypes. They had me laughing at every stop they made, and left me meditating on the decisions I’ve made as a parent, and a man. I highly recommend seeing The Trip.