By Ed Symkus
More Content Now
In 2011, American art house audiences were caught unaware by the delightful, hilarious, thought-provoking and delicious faux documentary “The Trip,” in which British actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing slightly skewed versions of themselves, drove all over England, dining in fine restaurants and publishing stories of their experiences.
That film began life as a mostly improvised six-part BBC TV series, directed by Michael Winterbottom, who then whittled it down to movie length for American consumption. Last year the BBC dangled the carrot of a second helping, this time in Italy, in front of the director and stars, resulting in another six-part series. Now another movie, “The Trip to Italy,” is being served.
It’s more of a remake, rather than a sequel, featuring the two quick-witted, well-read, intelligent guys with a penchant for doing impersonations of movie stars once again hopping in a car, eating at fancy restaurants, making yummy sounds, chatting about literature, film and music, pining about getting older, and holding one-on-one competitions involving who can do a better vocal impression of Michael Caine and Sean Connery.
Both films had outlines concerning what would be discussed at the restaurants and in the car, but then the A-one improvisatory skills of Coogan and Brydon were let loose, to hilarious effect, most notably when they launch into a lengthy and absurdly funny spree on how difficult it was to understand Tom Hardy’s muffled dialogue as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises.”
There’s a suggestion that the two friends haven’t seen each other for a while, so there’s plenty for them to talk about, and topics end up ranging from the friendship and poetry of Lord Byron and Percy Shelley to the songs of Alanis Morrisette.
Because this a move that features food, taking place in a country that loves food, the focus keeps returning to the six restaurants they visit and dine at. It makes little sense that these guys would have assignments to review and report on food since they don’t seem to know much about it beyond what looks good and tastes good. But that’s never brought up, and the cameras stay busy getting right up into their faces as they eat, and keep cutting away for quick glances into the busy kitchens where the meals are being prepared.
Yet the film is more about both the relationship between and the private inner thoughts of the two men, and there moments that are quite moving. Amidst the comedy, it’s subtly revealed that when they’re not together, they’re both kind of lonely, and are each experiencing midlife crises. The divorced Coogan has uncomfortable Skype talks with his teenage son, and the supposedly happily married Brydon finds that his wife always has an excuse not to talk with him when he phones her. At night, in their separate hotel rooms, Coogan reads Byron aloud, and Brydon loses himself in rehearsing lines for an upcoming movie audition.
A major difference between the two films is that in the first one it was Coogan who was offered the writing assignment, and brought Brydon along, but this time it’s Brydon being asked to write the articles, and giving a call to Coogan. Both of them are once again presented as being between acting gigs, so are able to get away. The other difference is that the first time around, Coogan played it as brash and ambitious and egotistical, and now he’s calmer, while Brydon gets to be the more rambunctious of the two.
But the main mood keeps returning to the comedy coming out of their constant banter. Coogan sometimes can’t even get a word in during a Brydon rant, and Winterbottom gives viewers the gift of leaving in a Capri-set sequence (yes, there are also boat rides) where Bryden cracks up Coogan for real.
The film runs a tad long and it ends too abruptly. But it’s hard to complain when there are so many comic tangents, such lovely drives through the bucolic countryside, an unexpected reverence displayed for the city of Pompeii, and, along with the poppy and raucous sounds of Alanis Morrisette, the glorious and sweeping ones of Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler – a curious choice since neither was Italian.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
THE TRIP TO ITALY
Written and directed by Michael Winterbottom
With Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon
Movie review: Coogan and Brydon shine in The Trip to Italy’
By Ed Symkus