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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What a Trip (A Review: Sort Of)

Film classifications/genres kind of get on my nerves.

(If you just asked yourself the question, "But, what doesn't?" then I love you.)

Oftentimes, I'll see a comedy and come away sad, and will know for sure that I just watched a great comedy. It's kind of just how I roll. If a comedy made me laugh and nothing else, I'm pretty sure it can be stated that it was basically a mediocre event-- like "Hear No Evil, See No Evil" or "Fletch". Not that those movies are really designed to get you to do anything other than laugh and possibly pee on yourself (it's been a while for me) but I tend to think the measure of a particularly great comedy is whether or not it makes me sad.

Michael Winterbottom's "The Trip", starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, was a film that made me sad, but I'm not sure that it was a particularly great comedy. The synopses that I read of the film piqued my interest: two eccentric English comedians tooling around in a Range Rover doing impressions and eating expensive food seemed right up my alley, but you can never really go by those synopses. Almost without exception, they refer to Brydon's character as "annoying" or "irritating" or, to really throw it out there, "the source of eternal aggravation". After seeing the film, that seems funny to me, because Coogan's character, at least to me, was just as annoying and obnoxious, if not more so, because he was all of that combined with an acidic narcissim, lack of charity, and a voracious, predatory lust for anything with a pair of tits.

The film struck a chord with me because it reminded me of a friendship that I have which seems to hang by a tenuous thread-- it's an old friendship, formed when I was ten and when my friend was thirteen. Fortunately, I was precocious enough back then to pass for appropriate company for him and the age gap closed somewhat as we both entered college and stayed in touch. Instead of both being English, as are Brydon and Coogan, we were (and still are) Jewish and American but desperately wanted to be (and still want to be) English, and we gave lusty voice to this fetish by collaborating on Monty Python-style sketches in our teenage years and cajoling my father into filming them.

He became a professional actor, an extraordinarily talented musician, and has enjoyed the company of many an attractive, lithe and sensual young female, and I didn't.

I got married and bought a house and have stable employment and am starting a family. And he didn't.

And to say that there isn't any jealousy that exists on both sides of our relationship would be patently unfair. A few years ago, in a spurt of creativity and confidence, I helped him develop a one-man show that has now been produced in several different venues in New York City, and I have had the privilege of watching my friend perform the piece excellently at two different theatres. And I'm proud of the work I put into the piece as far as editing and suggesting material, but mostly in providing emotional support during the creative process. Do I sometimes wish it was me up there, embodying characters and receiving adulation?

Yes. I do.

Back in 2003, he asked me to run away with him. He tried to seduce me, you see. He asked me to take his hand and run away with him to New York City. At this time in my life, we were spending more time together, huddled in his tiny $400-a-month South Philly apartment, replete with the requisite pizza boxes strewn around on the floor, doing together what we did best: writing. He asked me to come to New York City with him and develop a stage show-- a comedy act-- a sketch show. A who-knows-what. But, at this time, a girl was working on seducing me, too-- and we all know how that goes. She became Mrs. Apron, and my friend went to New York by himself, and he flowered. And maybe I say it to make myself feel better about the choice I made, but part of me thinks that, were I shackled to his shin, the poor bastard might have wilted.

And I might have, too.

Watching the interplay between Coogan and Brydon, watching the tension simmering underneath as they try to out-do each other's Michael Caine impression was very hard to watch for me. Because it made me think about my friend, and my relationship with him, and how it's changed and stopped and started over the years-- over twenty-one years... Jesus Christ-- that is hard to write out like that.

I love him. I do. And love is not easy to bear, just like a good film is not easy to watch. See, it was a good film-- but I'm not sure if it was a great film. It did make me sad, though-- but I think that had more to do with my own baggage than with the film's technical and artistic aspects. We all lug tons of baggage into a movie theatre with us. There really should be overhead compartments for all that stuff.

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