The Trip and Midnight in Paris review

by Fiona Rae / 20 October, 2011
Two films out yesterday should not be missed, says David Larsen.

All you really need to know about The Trip is that you’ll be glad you saw it. I’m tempted to say you’re better off knowing no more than that, but in fact that isn’t true. Once this ridiculously funny film has pulled you into its reality, high expectations won’t damage your enjoyment of it any more than would ignorance of its baroque backstory. Deadpan British humour does not come any drier than this, and it does not come any more effective.

The backstory: in 2005, TV comics Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon starred in Michael Winterbottom’s A Cock and Bull Story, playing versions of themselves making a film adaptation of one of the great unfilmable books, Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. Winterbottom liked the result – so did audiences – and felt the “Coogan plays Coogan, Brydon plays Brydon” joke had more juice in it. He set to squeezing. The result was a six-part BBC TV series called The Trip, in which characters named Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon were sent off to the north of Britain on a restaurant tour, as research for a newspaper article. The series became a major hit and, edited down, it also became this movie.

Postmodern foodie journalism humour (abridged): you’ll agree this sounds far from promising. The film starts modestly, with the prickly Coogan and the blandly likeable Brydon bickering their way along British highways and back roads, and only swings into a higher gear 20 minutes or so in, when the two start arguing over the proper way to do a Michael Caine impression. Virtuosic impersonation one-up-manship ensues, and the pattern appears to be set: a rolling backdrop of low key road comedy, with occasional moments of pure hilarity.

This would make for a perfectly watchable film, but Winterbottom has his sights set higher. Almost imperceptibly, Coogan and Brydon’s extemporised comic riffs stop feeling like the main attraction, as their background banter evolves from amusing time filler to painfully hilarious psychological vivisection. The film becomes a complex in-depth character study in which the characters happen to be gifted comedians who can’t stop trying to show each other up. A funner film you will not see this year.

THE TRIP, directed by Michael Winterbottom. Click here for cinemas and times.

I adored Woody Allen in my teens. Then I got annoyed with him. Then I got bored with him. Then he made Husbands and Wives, and I essentially gave up on him for 20 years. I’d take the occasional trip down memory lane – Zelig, The Purple Rose of Cairo and Radio Days have never lost their charm – but no recent Allen film has made me smile, and I actively detested Vicky Christina Barcelona, widely regarded as his long-overdue return to form. When American-based friends told me Midnight In Paris was his real return to form, and that it was hard to imagine anyone failing to enjoy it, I told them they wouldn’t need to imagine it – they could just wait a few months for the New Zealand release, and then read my review. Pass the salt, please. I need to eat my words.

Although that wasn’t clear at first. The film opens with a long lushly orchestrated montage of picture postcard shots of Paris. The beauty! The romance! The tedium! It’s like a self-mockingly overblown echo of the opening sequence of Manhattan, and it leads, as so many Allen openings do, into the story of a cerebral young American writer (Owen Wilson) whose girlfriend (Rachel McAdams, in a thankless role) doesn’t understand him.

But then things take a hard left into the realm of joyful Parisian fantasy. It would be criminal to tell you exactly what happens, but the result is a purely delightful intellectual romance. A few aspects of the story annoyed me when I thought about them afterwards, but even the churlish ex-fan in me isn’t prepared to give these quibbles much weight: this is the most enjoyable film Allen has made for a very long time.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, directed by Woody Allen. Click here for cinemas and times.

Click here for more stories and reviews by David Larsen; click here for his blog, Romeo Must Not Live.


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