‘The Trip’ and the Challenges of Friendship

I saw The Trip this weekend, which for reasons very particular to me, may be the movie I’ve enjoyed most so far this year. I liked Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop just fine, but The Trip is an even better movie about the craft of comedy. Much of the movie is Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon doing things like this:

The combination of the appeal of American popular culture filtered through the refinement and intelligence of English humor is sort of irresistible to me. But the movie also hit the sweet spot of something I’ve been thinking about a lot: the treatment of friendships as secondary to romances in most movies and television shows. It’s so rare that the relationship between friends is the most important thing in a movie. Friends are usually a facilitator to the traditional end of a comedy, a marriage (or at least permanent-seeming partnership) rather than the main event. I think that’s one of the reasons Bridesmaids has been so successful: it’s the friendship that matters, and the romantic and sexual relationships that are at the periphery. The groom in the titular wedding doesn’t even have a line.


In The Trip, there’s a pair of interesting imbalances between Coogan and Brydon. Coogan is more successful professionally, but he’s dissatisfied with his failure to make the leap into the first tier of actors alongside people like Michael Sheen, and he’s divorced and in the process of being left by his current girlfriend. Brydon, by contrast, is less famous, but he’s reconciled to it, making money off an iPhone app based on one of his characters, and incredibly happy with his wife and new baby. So even though Coogan has more material resources, he needs Brydon more than Brydon needs him, and he’s obviously deeply uncomfortable with that, and expresses that discomfort by being something of a jerk. But the malleability of friendship means that they can deal with it, that they can work through Coogan’s behavior to get to the root of his sadness, even if that means dealing with it obliquely by singing ABBA and testing their octave ranges. Anyway, it’s a warm, terrific movie, the cure for the common action movie.