Seinfeld may have finally met its British cousin.
The Trip, a new comedy of manners starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, has quite a bit in common with the classic sitcom, made famous by being about nothing. In fact, The Trip began on the small screen as a six-part BBC miniseries.
The concept is simple: Two acquaintances spend a week together driving through England's Lake District and Yorkshire Dales. In less skilled hands, a lack of structure or script could be a mess or, worse yet, boring. But Coogan and Brydon, two of the England's funniest exports, are masters of improvisation, turning the simplest of experiences into outright hilarity. The Trip isn't slapstick, rather, it showcases that rare element of wit carved out of life's awkward moments.
When the pair visits a pretentious brasserie that serves unrecognizable courses, a tiny pea soup-colored cocktail is placed before them. They each take an extended sip.
"It tastes like a childhood garden," says Brydon, sounding oh-so-much like a ridiculous foodie.
"The consistency is ..." says Coogan with an extended pause. "Well, it's a bit like snot, isn't it? But I must say it's delicious."
Brydon waits a moment to contemplate Coogan's assessment.
"I can't get the image of snot out of my head now," he says matter-of-factly.
When the waiter returns, Brydon nods approvingly.
"Well, that was lovely, wasn't it?"
The highlight of the movie is a running gag of impression one-upmanship. Brydon launches into a dead-perfect impersonation of Michael Caine. Coogan, who says he hates impressions, takes the bait and instantly launches into his own version. The dueling Caines are brilliant and get better as the challenge progresses (and eventually ends in a stalemate). The pair continues dueling impressions of Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Sean Connery and many others. In another tip of the bowler to Seinfeld, the pair deconstruct Abba's "The Winner Takes It All," and the Muppets' Swedish Chef. Great stuff.
Coogan, not unlike Ricky Gervais, has made a career out of playing pompous but transparent characters (Tropic Thunder, Night at the Museum). In The Trip, he plays a version of himself, an actor who sees himself on the A-list but is clearly struggling to simply stay on the B-list. He is emotionally bankrupt and fails at attempts to relate to his girlfriend, his son and just about everybody else. When Brydon asks Coogan if he would trade his son's appendix for an Oscar, Coogan has to wait a moment to think about it. Ultimately, Coogan's character is left with his ego and not much more.
Conversely, Brydon--who has performed primarily on British television--plays a version of himself that loves his wife, his newborn son and life itself. He is joyful, genuine and a perfect foil to Coogan. In the end, The Trip is a bit of a mash-up of My Dinner With Andre and Curb Your Enthusiasm. It certainly has a bit of a small-screen feel, but the big-screen version is still better than most films and is certainly head and shoulders above most comedies.