Coogan & Brydon & Tristram Shandy

DATELINE: Early Teaming of Coogan & Brydon

 Cock & Bull.

If you truly want the roots of the duo of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, you need to go back to 2005 and the costume drama they almost made. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Storyis a fascinating Fellini-like motion picture. You will even hear music from Fellini’s 8 & a Half.

It is only ancillary about the Laurence Sterne novel. It is about trying to make a movie about it. From the opening scene of Rob and Steve in make-up having a witty repartee to the end of the film when they do their Pacino imitations after a viewing of rushes, you have the basic motif of theTrip pictures.

Tristram Shandy’s behind the scenes take over after nearly half-an-hour of the novel narrative. Debates brew about how to play it, amidst the personal crises of the actors. Roger Allam shows up as the thankless agent of Coogan.

Director Michael Winterbottom set the course five years before the first of the trip films. In Tristram, they argue over leading role status, their looks, and already Steve Coogan playing himself (in variation) has sex scandals brewing in the media.

Coogan plays Tristram and his father, as the film never really goes beyond his birth and early childhood. Rob plays his brother/uncle. When Steve arranges for Gillian Anderson to join the cast, it doubles Rob’s role. Steve’s ego is mortified at what he has done.

This is a semi-friendly rivalry that would be more fully studied in the four subsequent semi-fictional films in which they continued to play movie versions of themselves.

One Last Trip to Greece

DATELINE: Literary Road Trips

 Steve Coogan with Rob Brydon.

With great sadness we are saying goodbye to the highly intelligent, witty, charming series of movies with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Their last is The Trip to Greece,all four civilized comedies were directed by Michael Winterbottom.

These have been four rarities of the modern age: witty as Noel Coward, beautifully locations, with amusing company. And they aren’t even gay. Two performers whose competition extends to out-imitating the other are sent on a fictional outing. Their job as journalists is to visit fine restaurants and write reviews.

The actors sort of play themselves in Brydon and Coogan (notable Oscar nominee for Stan and Ollie, as he was Stan). You often cannot tell where the fiction starts, as they play versions of themselves blending over into plot contrivance. Their litany of impersonations (Brando, Hoffman, Olivier, Caine, Pacino, Jagger) makes for a variety of dinner companions.

Four films feature hilarious riffs and impersonations over dinner and while driving around luscious countryside in Greece. Brydon sings the tune from Grease, and he crunches it to fit the country. Coogan is dutifully appalled.

They transform imitations of Laurel and Hardy over lunch into breath-taking jokes: Oliver Hardy morphs into Tom Hardy.

These little forays to gourmet restaurants have a price in this film (350 Euros).

The bittersweet last entry in the series showcases the performers to their greatest wish: Brydon becomes the epitome of the light comedian—and Coogan, as he likes, becomes the tragic actor of Shakespearean levels.

Their frictions and battles are nothing short of delightful wordplay. You don’t see that much anywhere in movies nowadays.

After visits to England, Italy, and Spain, this lap around the Aegean ends with a whimper. Brilliantly done, and hopefully there will be one more trip.