Film

CinemaDope: The Full Monty

English comedy in America

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Thursday, August 11, 2011
Independent Film Channel Photo
Left to Right: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip

We Americans are proud of our revolutionary birth. To celebrate, we shoot off fireworks and parade through the streets; we let infants hold sparklers and we grill enough meat to strike panic in the hearts of cardiologists. Car prices are slashed, banks are closed, bank managers get tipsy in the sun. And through it all, we harbor a secret: when it comes to comedy, a good lot of us are still loyal to Mother England.

It usually starts in middle school—the discovery, among a parent's old things (and let's be honest, it's almost always in with Dad's stuff), of some forgotten Monty Python album or videocassette whose slightly bawdy humor and broad range of accents proves irresistible to the idle teenage mind. Skits are memorized, friends are corralled into listening parties, and before long you're getting dirty looks at the 24-hour diner. I speak from sometimes regrettable experience.

It's a tradition so institutionalized that our entire comedy industry routinely borrows ideas from the English; The Office is only the most famous recent example. Most attempts, tellingly, fail rather quickly. It may be the same language, but a lot gets lost in translation.

If you're a fan of the original flavor, be sure to head out to Amherst Cinema this week to catch The Trip, a quintessentially British comedy from director Michael Winterbottom (Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story). A roiling mix of comic brio that's equal parts camaraderie and bristly competitive energy, it's the sort of sometimes uncomfortable comedy—like the original version of The Office—that will likely be softened if an American remake is in the cards.

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, frequent costars in Winterbottom's films, reunite here as somewhat fictionalized versions of themselves. The conceit of the television series on which the film is based—even the English remake their comedies!—is that Coogan, having accepted a restaurant reviewing assignment from The Observer, finds himself in need of a partner when his girlfriend jumps ship. Enter Brydon, Coogan's best friend and recurring source of frustration, aggravation, and jealousy.

The pair take to the road to sample the country's finest fare, and, despite the occasional moments of competitive tension, it's clear that they relish each other's company. As they tour around sampling some outlandish dishes (duck fat lollipops) the pair entertain themselves and us by riffing on the nature of their respective fames—arthouse regular Coogan is needled by the popular Brydon's rising star—and trying to one-up each other with impressions of Sean Connery and Michael Caine.

And that in some way is what makes this particular brand of comedy so easy to embrace: two friends, out to dinner and making each other laugh. It's like us—only funnier.

*

Also this week: Three special screenings make sure that there's a film showing for fans of every genre. For drama, check out Key Largo, John Huston's 1948 Bogart and Bacall picture. Edward G. Robinson is Bogart's foil as the gangster holding a hotel hostage in the face of an impending hurricane. Filmgoers looking for a second comedy can check out Jack The Giant Killer, screening Wednesday at Hadley's Cinemark Theaters. Part of the RiffTrax Live series, the '60s-era fantasy film—Vikings, rubber monsters, and a leprechaun are featured—is overlaid with wisecracking commentary from the group behind the classic Mystery Science Theater 3000 television series. And finally, fans of classic musicals will want to head to Shelburne Falls, where Pothole Pictures will screen Top Hat on Friday and Saturday nights. Fred and Ginger, mistaken identities, and a great supporting cast—including music by Irving Berlin—make it a must-see."

Jack Brown can be reached at cinemadope@gmail.com.

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