Director Michael Winterbottom had so much fun making the 2005 Tristram Shandy with comic stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon that he signed up to do a recent TV series with them. Essentially, Coogan—a much bigger name in the UK, thanks to his Alan Partridge character—would drive around the North Countries, with Brydon as his wingman, and write about food. Or, here, talk about food. Or, mainly, talk about their respective careers (why can't Steve get the big roles he thinks he deserves in Hollywood?), romantic misfortunes, the humiliations of aging, and whatever else comes to mind. Their priceless improvisatory banter is framed, fake-documentary style, by their public images: Brydon and Coogan are playing versions of themselves, with movie Rob the contented family man whose small-screen success has recently earned him an iPhone app. Lonely, philandering movie Steve is haunted by his tabloid past with strippers, drugs, and even Courtney Love. He's constantly one-upping Rob, resulting in hilarious dueling impersonations of Michael Caine ("It's all from the nose!") and Roger Moore. The humor and put-downs during this culinary road trip are very British, very specifically British, and not every reference will land on American ears. Also, because the movie is stitched together from several TV episodes, there's a lot of repetition. If you love Rob's first Al Pacino impression, you may not laugh so much at his fourth. Still, it's the funniest film I saw at SIFF, one that even turns ABBA's "The Winner Takes It All" into a rueful anthem of middle age.
Who's the better Roger Moore? Coogan (left) or Brydon?
Opens at Harvard Exit, Fri., June 17. Not rated. 107 minutes.