By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Steve Coogan’s been on my radar ever since running across the funny, almost forgotten The Parole Officer in 2001. I always expected him to have a Hollywood-style breakout a la Ricky Gervais or Simon Pegg at some point that would make him as big a name in the U.S. as across the pond, but it’s never really happened.
This isn’t the film that’ll do it, but it does explore the issue in a somewhat autobiographical sort of way. On the surface it is a road trip comedy in which Coogan is joined by fellow British comic Rob Brydon in a food tour across Northern England after Coogan’s girlfriend opted out.
Probably because she realized it would involve British food
The main reason to watch this film is the comedy, which Coogan and Brydon provide plenty of, playing exaggerated versions of themselves. They have great rapport from working together on Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story among other projects, and their endless bickering and constant undercutting of each other is hilarious.
Just like your parents, but with less alcohol and walking into doorknobs
Brydon’s calling card is apparently doing impressions of famous folk, and the movie is chock full of Coogan and him swapping them, so hopefully you like those. I generally* do, as it turns out, and their Michael Caine-off is particularly inspired. Also, you have to raise a hearty brew to the gorgeous late fall Northern England scenery.
What really impressed me about the film, though, was how it sneaks some deeper themes up on you under all of the gags. This quasi-fictional version of Coogan is being torn up by his dreams of Hollywood fame and success, poisoning his relationships and general outlook. This is contrasted throughout with Brydon’s simpler goals and general contentedness, and the film ends on a particularly strong note as we see this played out one final time.
The build-up to that point, though, doesn’t seem quite complete, which makes sense when you consider the film is a cut-down version of a BBC series that is almost an hour and a half longer, which I would have watched if I could have. The film instead plays like a Reader’s Digest Condensed Books version of a broader, more nuanced work.
Reader’s Digest: Completely Missing the Point of Literature Since 1950
*Even in its foreshortened version, Brydon’s schtick gets a little… annoying. This is slightly on purpose and referenced throughout the film, but I found it hard to be amused at Coogan’s discomfort with Brydon when I wanted to wring his neck even more.
Two of Britain’s funniest comics invite you on a pleasant, consistently amusing tour of Northern England and their own psyches. I don’t have a good reason why you shouldn’t grab a few pints of bitter and go along with.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: anytime anyone does an impression
Take a Drink: whenever there’s a literary reference
Drink a Shot: any time they drink alcohol