Food in Films: The Trip

15 Oct

For my second installment of Food in Films, I have chosen to review Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip. This was a movie that I had wanted to see in the theater; having missed the opportunity, I patiently bided my time until it was available on Netflix.

The titular trip is a tour of fine dining in Northern England. Steve Coogan, originally aiming to impress his foodie American girlfriend Mischa, has planned a romantic week as a celebrity restaurant reviewer for The Observer. Determined to keep the gig despite Mischa’s premature return to America (the two are taking a relationship break), he enlists Rob Brydon, “a short Welsh man who does impressions,” as his new companion-in-arms. Rob is known particularly for his Man in the Box routine.

From the beginning, it is clear that there is a bit of tension and rivalry between Steve and Rob. I Love You, Man it isn’t: the film strikes a much different chord than the recently popular American bromance genre (although I have to say, Steve Coogan does look a little bit like an aged, floppy-haired Jason Segel). As Steve and Rob wind their way through breathtaking English countryside with poetical landmarks (i.e., Coleridge and Wordsworth monuments), you are treated to taunts and tirades and a host of astonishingly skillful celebrity impressions. It’s “guffaw” inspiring.

Interspersed between their marathon sessions of Michael Caine, Woody Allen, Al Pacino, and Sir Ian McKellen are some behind the scenes kitchen footage and rollicking and cheeky commentary on everything from “duck fat lollis” (that the two munch awkwardly) to a verdant cocktail that Rob describes as tasting of a “childhood garden.”  Steve’s sarcastic comeback: “Was there a lot of alcohol in your garden as a child? I’m sorry, Rob.”

There are also lots of scallops over the course of the tour–I counted their appearance at three meals, and didn’t weary of them as it gave me a chance to hear the actors refer to them grandly as “scah-lops.” (This is just one of those words that sounds better with an English accent). Regarding the latter, Rob drolly notes as the two dine at L’Enclume on what the restaurant captain describes as “rested” baby scallops: “Their days of resting are gone; they are dead.”

I can’t pretend that I could fully appreciate every movie reference peppered throughout The Trip, but more than enough were familiar. The squabbling of these two loons makes for an infectiously entertaining two hours. There were so many great one-liners that I couldn’t possibly record them all (and besides, you want to have a reason to see The Trip for yourself), but here are a few precious moments:

-Arriving at the first inn on the itinerary, Rob remarks, “It’s the sort of place that you’d shoot a Miss Marple.” When the two subsequently learn that they will have to share a room and a bed, Rob takes it in stride, while Steve childishly pouts, “You might want to touch my bottom.”

-Steve tells Rob that he is qualified to review the restaurants in the North because he is from Manchester. Without skipping a beat, Rob’s rejoinder: Steve is better suited to have taken Mischa on a tour of “gun crime sites.”

-After Steve has an affair with the Polish innkeeper (his first of two on the trip), he affirms for Rob the next morning that he has “cemented Anglo-Polish relations,” and that he’d go so far as to say there has been “an historic accord.”

-Steve is in disbelief when he can’t charm a septuagenarian into letting him into the Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage after hours, while Rob easily wins her over because her grandson is a fan of the Man in a Box. Steve petulantly decries, “Old people seek out aggravation.”

Perhaps one of my favorite scenes is an ABBA sing-a-long that manages to degenerate into impressions of the Swedish chef from the muppets around 1:15:

The most popular clip is probably the Michael Caine scene, which alone makes this film worth seeing, but I also loved the banter in “The Daybreak” clip where the two inanely imagine they are part of a costume drama:

Ultimately, the weeklong trip isn’t just about bickering and food. Somewhere along the way, Steve realizes that he is “stuck in a metaphor,” and that a life without responsibility, obligations, and commitments–a loveless life–is an empty life. Rob contentedly returns to his wife and infant and a domestic scene plays out that Steve would have, at least at the beginning of the week, smirkingly dissmissed as mundane and “mediocre.”

By the end of the journey, we also see Steve back at home, staring bleakly into a sort of abyss: he lives in a “perfect” apartment with beautiful things that is cold and comfortless. And although Steve chases celebrity and accolades, he resolutely turns down a starring offer in an American TV show. Composer Michael Nyman’s Departure plays in the background (an instrumental that you might recognize if you are a fan of the greatly under-appreciated film Gattaca).

If you are curious to see more Steve and Rob antics, you can check out the original BBC series, The Trip. I understand that the six-part series feature more of the food, and of course, more priceless impressions and squabbling.

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