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Conceptualized at first as a six-part television series for British television, director Michael Winterbottom’s “The Trip,” starring English comics Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, is a strange, delightfully bittersweet mid-life crisis film of sorts, which leaves you somehow feeling as if you’ve witnessed an actual epiphany happening as it is unfolding.

Coogan plays himself, ostensibly, and the premise is that he is invited to do a driving restaurant tour of the gorgeous Northern English countryside to sample complicated haute cuisine for an upcoming article for the Observer. He invites along (rather grudgingly) his old friend Rob Brydon, after his girlfriend gets cold feet, and cancels. The two friends, again, playing “themselves,” and using their real names, argue, do countless, hilarious imitations of celebrities (trying to one up the other on who does the best, most pitch-perfect Michael Caine), and, generally, begin to rub each other gently, ever so slightly- the wrong way. Which is to say, Brydon’s simpler lifestyle and solid, sweet marriage start to make Coogan dwell upon his own, immediate life choices. Coogan’s interior ramblings become more vocal and rise to the surface, and Brydon’s contrasting satisfyingly placid private life begins to figure more prominently as the road trip wares on.

As the mild-mannered and dry-witted Brydon witnesses Coogan chatting with his American girlfriend on the phone moment (they are taking a “break,” she in the U.S., he in England) then bedding down a sensual concierge the next, he chides him gently, while never for a moment becoming envious of Coogan’s far flashier life career and romantic life. Well, not really. Coogan, on the other hand, pines for some sort of more relevant stability- with his girlfriend and with his children-all who currently live apart from him, and within his own legit acting career.

It is interesting to see such an accomplished, genuinely charismatic performer actually suffering over a dearth of opportunities to really sink his teeth into artistically. Yes, he makes fun of costume drama, but there is an intriguing, authentic feeling of longing experienced, the raw wish to experience genuine greatness, which is rarely glimpsed in our fame-obsessed, reality-TV based culture. This is really what “The Trip” is all about: Realizing what’s important to you, versus your life’s circumstances at the very moment. Cogan’s choice at the end is poignant and feels quite “real.” As he is shot behind the craggy, rolling hills of the sumptuous Yorkshire countryside, which appear to have been CGI-ed right in from “Wuthering Heights,” Coogan, quoting Keats and Shakespeare as if in a dream state, would make for a truly intense, romantic presence on-screen in a juicy period piece himself. Steve Coogan, get thee-self into a Merchant Ivory film! Vimooz says go see “The Trip.” Especially if you are on a staycation this season-this is a great, sweet, summer weekend matinee movie, one that will have you both laughing and thinking about how good or crappy you really have it- or both.


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