Steve Coogan’s possibly-ex-girlfriend is in the States, so he gets fellow TV comic Rob Brydon to join him for a would-be-romantic road trip to high-end northern England restaurants. Along the way, Steve makes anxious calls to his girl, to his agent (an American cable series is offered, with a seven-year commitment) and to his ex-wife and son. Rob’s only phone usage is for a nightly phone-sex appointment with his wife. Steve fusses over his career, wonders why he’s not the star he considers himself to be, and constantly puts down and one-ups Rob.
The fun of the six-episode series (which I watched since the movie version isn’t out yet) is in the often hilarious, somewhat bitter but always ultimately comic conversations between Steve and Rob, plus the great scenery and food. The movie aspires to more, though, and it’s more successful with its portrayal of a complicated friendship than with the time given to Steve’s personal and professional unhappiness. Each episode ends with him sighing heavily after an unpleasant phone call, looking unhappily into the distance, trying to make himself look younger in the mirror, and imitating Rob’s TV characters which he derides in public. I get the intent, to make Coogan a deep, sad character, but it comes off as repetitive and slightly self-indulgent. Brydon is given less depth, just a satisfied family man who loves doing the celebrity impressions that made his TV career. Coogan has a point that Rob gets annoying in large doses, but Rob confidently holds his own against Steve’s constant jabs.
The AV Club reviewers liked the film version in general, had some complaints I can’t disagree with. N. Murray: “While I liked the movie, there’s no reason why this couldn’t have been something I loved.” S. Tobias: “The choices [Winterbottom] makes in the editing room (and perhaps on set, too) seem off here … there are scenes that are allowed to go on too long or repeat a scene earlier in the film.”
Slant: “Its wry pricking of supercilious egos suggests a more self-aware version of Sideways.”