The Trip (Michael Winterbottom, 2010)
Category: As the title suggests, this is a sad road trip film. Road trips are a fun concept for us clockwatching city-dwellers. It’s Tuesday morning, the coffee machine is broken, and Marcia from accounting nattering on about her kids. Who in that situation wouldn’t prefer to be out on the open road, an old map (or GPS) your only guide, listening to “Life is a Highway” on repeat? Everyone likes a good road trip.
They can get sad, though. Long car rides are prone to occasional fits of melancholy and/or horrific accidents, both of which really tend to suck the fun. The idea of the open road is a very romantic one, but actually being in a car with someone for days on end is less so. Particularly if that person enjoys Funions. And so road trips often start out with a great deal of fun and hope, but end up being very disappointing. Much like marriage. Movies in this genre include Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, Wild Hogs, and Chuck Klosterman’s Killing Yourself to Live, which is not a movie.
More importantly, however, this is a deceptively sad movie. Hard to see these coming. We’ll discuss this in greater depth later.
My familiarity with this issue: I’ve been on my share of long car voyages, a few that could be reasonably considered “road trips.” They’ve been generally quite positive, actually. I think this is largely due to the fact that much of the time on these trips was spent reading aloud from choose-your-own-adventure books and memorizing the Ludacris verse of the Justin Bieber song “Baby.” When you’ve got activities as golden as that, life is but a dream. I also used to take a lot of long car rides by myself, and those were great fun as well. Usually people tell you to quiet down when you’re singing Kelly Clarkson at the top of your lungs.
Coincidentally, several friends of the blog have gone on road trips this past summer. Here are some of their views on the subject:
· Zach Gibson: “Road trips are fun.”
· Evan Chiacchiaro: “I really liked going on my road trip.”
· Josh Benjamin: “Some road trip, eh?”
· Steve Isaac: “I actually did not go on a road trip this summer.”
As for the deceptively sad bit: well, this happens to us all the time, doesn’t it? (FOTB Katie Ross knows what I’m talkin’ about.) We settle in to watch a nice movie that we’re maybe not all that familiar with, and we find that it’s sadder than we expected (or there’s a unexpected twist that smacks you in the face with sadness). At this point, short of leaving the theater so as not to ruin your mascara, you must adjust your mindset to allow for a sadder experience than was anticipated. Recommended ways to do this include stabbing yourself in the leg with a paper clip, or thinking about the time that your dog ran into the street when you were eleven.
Luckily, however, I did not have to go through that ritual for this film. I ran into FsOTB Duncan Marchbank and Alex Kalinowski after they saw the film, and they mentioned its surprising sadness. I had been planning to see it anyway, as I heard there were funny British people in the film. But upon hearing this, my interest took on a second, more blog-related component.
Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “When Steve Coogan is asked by The Observer to tour the country's finest restaurants, he envisions it as the perfect getaway with his beautiful girlfriend. But, when she backs out on him, he has no one to accompany him but his best friend and source of eternal aggravation, Rob Brydon.”
What I thought of the movie: Well, it was definitely the funniest movie that I’ve watched for this blog (slightly edging out Hotel Rwanda). Coogan and Brydon’s seemingly improvised conversations, impressions, insults, and flights of fancy are endlessly amusing. I say “endless” because I’ve watched this clip about fifty times since seeing the movie and I still can’t stop laughing at it.
Where the sad stuff comes in is a bit trickier to describe. I don’t want to go terribly in depth about this because it’s still in theaters and I think you should see it. But suffice it to say that it’s not one of those movies where some big tragic event takes place and changes the tone. It’s more about the feeling of melancholy that pervades, almost entirely via Coogan’s “character” (they play versions of themselves), and manifests itself in their occasionally very tense conversations. The differences between the two men’s familial status (Brydon happily married with a child, Coogan tomcatting around and trying to salvage a relationship with some American chick) and their success (Brydon has greater mass appeal in Britain, which surprised me, as I’d never heard of him and I love me some Coogan) contribute to the complexity of their relationship.
How I, John Krizel, related to this movie: The movie really explores the relationship between being depressed and being funny. Coogan’s upset about his career and his romantic life; he wanted to take the trip with his girlfriend, but she might not be his girlfriend anymore. So he’s forced to ask the genial Brydon, and occasionally directs his frustrations toward him during the trip by trying to assert his superiority to him in his supposed area of expertise: doing impressions. (Oh the impressions in this movie! They're all pretty fantastic.) It’s not that Coogan dislikes Brydon: they’re not really friends, but they’re not enemies, or even frenemies. He’s plainly jealous of him, but Brydon is too goofy to be a suitable villain. So Coogan is even deprived of having a satisfactory target for his enmity.
There have been dozens of films about misanthropic artists (particularly comedians), and it’s not usually a genre I’m all that into. Obviously it’s hard to feel sorry for people who make a lot of money by pretending to be someone else, even if they’re doing it in a way that forfeits their “artistic integrity.” (Poor people don’t really worry about artistic integrity, as they’re far more concerned with eating food and paying rent.) Still, I couldn’t help but be drawn in to Coogan’s issues.
And again, I think it goes back to how funny he and Brydon are. You pay more attention to people who are funny, because you never know when they’re going to say something funny. It gives them license to be serious sometimes, and allows them to reflect on issues that might seem turgid in the hands of more serious people. Even as I found myself thinking about how Coogan’s problems reminded me of a popular hashtag that I’m trying not to use as much anymore, I accepted the movie on its own terms. It’s not trying to be Schindler’s List, after all.
How I felt after the movie ended: As mentioned, the sad is kind of hidden in this movie (deceptively so!). It’s interspersed neatly among bushels of funny observations about haute cuisine and natural beauty and Michael Caine’s voice. Which is a pretty good form of sad, all things considered. I’m taking both aspects of it away from the movie, by both writing this post, and sending this clip to everyone I know. Gentlemen, to bed.