directed by Michael Winterbottom
starring Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon
Life for an aging comedian can be a rough go especially if one is routinely seeking out those measures that prove youth can be sustained if only for an instant when the woman demonstrates her complete satisfaction of the good, rolicking time you have provided her. For Steve Coogan (Coogan) such an act is pretty much all he can cling to. He’s managed an ex-wife, a present girlfriend who is taking leave and opportunities to remind himself of his masculine appeal. He is part of a duo which includes Rob Brydon (Brydon) who seems perfectly content with the same dish every night served up by his complacent wife. He also gets to be daffy with his baby daughter who provides him with both purpose and stability. This film, a continuation of “A Cock and Bull Story” featuring both actors in the same roles, is directed by Michael Winterbottom who seems more interested in the landscape than the characters and their wacky hijinks. As a nature film it is top notch and it creates a desire in the viewer to travel to the Northern part of England in an effort to find the Moors where Ian Brady and Myra Hindley buried their victims.
The narrative involves a story that Steve is supposed to write for the Observer regarding six restaurants which serve a series of ridiculous platters that no sane person would ever consider eating. Steve is desperate for a partner in crime because his girlfriend Mischa (Margo Stilley) has decided to abscond to America to take a break from Steve. After several friends turn him down he is resigned to ring up Rob who reluctantly agrees to the sojourn. These men are far from friends but they have known each other for a decade. Much of the film’s success comes from these two bitching like an elderly couple who have been living together for fifty years and whose deep affection is masked by raging rants of pure hatred. It is clear that Rob and Steve are perfect foils for one another and can riff off each other with wanton abandon. Much of the dialog is improvised and if nothing else it proves that Coogan and Brydon are brilliant off the cuff comedians every once in a while. Unfortunately at times the humor gets lost amidst the spectacle of two men who are in their way tragic figures who have deep psychological issues that need to be worked out.
Rob Brydon is apparently known as an impersonator and he showcases this gift or torment throughout the film. At first it’s cute but quickly loses its charm. Clearly this character cannot hold a conversation without reverting to his none-too convincing takes on Sean Connery, Woody Allen, Hugh Grant, etc. It becomes cringe-worthy after a while and one wishes he would knock it off and behave like an actual person. Steve seems rather lost throughout the film and the character’s career has stagnated although he is offered a series for HBO in America which would mean being closer to Mischa but also being tied down to a seven year contract. His U.S. agent hilariously tries to convince him of the necessity of the gig and his U.K. agent struggles to find anything suitable to Steve’s talents. He doesn’t want to work on television; he desires to work in a serious film like the real Steve Coogan who has managed to marry both television (the Alan Partridge programs) and film (Marie Antoinette, 24 Hour Party People, In the Loop). The character feels abandoned in some ways as if his chances to show his serious side have been irredeemably lost. He is terribly distressed throughout this film and does manage to find some succor in the arms of two opportunistic women although he doesn’t seem to enjoy it all that much. In many ways he is a sad man who on at least two occasions takes substantial risks to show that he still has the adventurous spirit in him like when he was a young man. Rob sits on the sidelines because he feels no need to show off. He’s content with his lot in life even if it means he demonstrates a sore lack to be himself without all the tomfoolery of making impressions.
The film is funny in fits and starts but could have been much more effective if it would have adhered to an actual script instead of flying off the cuff which it feels like especially during the final half hour. The jokes start to feel forced and by this time Rob has completely worn out his welcome. It just isn’t at all interesting to watch someone do an impression. Indeed it is one of if not the most irritating and least viable comedic tricks imaginable. It’s right up there with mimes and to sit through an entire film devoted to impersonations is almost unbearable. Not even the excruciatingly long car ride where the pair modernize Sean Connery’s role in what might be “Dragonheart” becomes tedious however hilarious the original premise for the joke wondering why it’s always “Gentlemen to bed for we leave at dawn as opposed to 9:30-ish.
Overall, these are obviously very funny men and it is entertaining to watch them continually cut into each other for the duration of the film. It is a dark and occasionally unsettling portrait of the aging process and how it chips away at a person’s conception of themselves and their ability to do good work. Rob has it figured out more or less as long as he’s able to discard the crutch of impersonation and let his actual self communicate openly. Steve is troubled by what appears to be something of an empty life. He chases skirts to prove himself a player but they bring him no joy because he goes home alone in the end. He does not have what Rob has managed even though he has produced one great thing in his time which is his fifteen year old son. But he isn’t able to be their for the kid as much as he should and it wears on him by the end. He seeks out pleasure which is fleeting and can’t even keep his much younger girlfriend from skipping town. It’s difficult for both men but Rob ultimately has the better of things.