The 2010 feature film The Trip, a pared down edition of the BBC miniseries of the same name, is an absolute delight. Watching actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon pinball back and forth with profoundly entertaining repartee, as they enjoy the exquisite cuisine across the finest restaurants around England is scrumptiously entertaining.
Thus, it was no surprise at all that this fantastic endeavor would be again repeated in a new locale. Although 2014’s The Trip to Italy doesn’t possess quite the exact same magic of the original gourmet journey, it really is no less entertaining, as these two brilliant British comics could potentially shoot the breeze, throwing out impressions, riffing and one-upping each other, and generally amusing both themselves as well as their audience for hours on end, and it really would never wane in its humor.
Both films directed by Michael Winterbottom, The Trip to Italy finds Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (or rather, the fictionalized versions of themselves; no need for character names), once again on the road, this time traveling across the picturesque Italian landscape, and heading from town to town, restaurant to restaurant, evaluating the meals and service at locales of fine dining, laughing all the way.
The dinner sequences in the film are nothing short of magnificent. Steve’s bitterness and Rob’s eternal optimism combat one another in the most hilarious fashion. There is a level of thinking, while viewing the breathtaking locations and delicious meals, that one has to believe when the cameras stopped filming, they had to turn to each other and say (or at least think): “what a fantastic life we have!”
But that is not the message sent by the character versions of themselves! Played up for humor, they both have a cynicism that cannot be broken, particularly Steve’s. He is a man who finds himself with a certain level of success, and yet always feeling that he’s still kept on the outside of real fame or fortune. He’ll never really achieve the Brad Pitt status of Hollywood stardom, and that irks him entirely. The consuming resentment he feels about this truly ties knots in his innards, to the point where he is oftentimes unable to really soak in or realize the many blessings around him. He has, as aforementioned, received a good deal of acclaim in the entertainment industry, and he has much for which to be grateful. But he still possesses the jealousy of others’ success, the inability to truly be proud of someone else’s good fortune, and the unwillingness to recognize the good things in his own life for which he ought to be very thankful.
For instance, when Rob reveals in the movie that his agent recently made him aware of an opportunity for a large role in a Michael Mann film, (which in turn he eventually obtains), Steve cannot bring himself to truly be happy for his friend. He holds it against him in a selfish way, and seeing the effect this has on him is a testament to Coogan’s acting skill. Not only is he portraying this kind of selfishness of the character, doubly working to display a fictionalized version of his own self, as well as perhaps real moments of one who may perhaps be experiencing similar thoughts/feelings, or has at certain points throughout his career. It would be hard to imagine that it’s all entirely a ruse, and at certain points there appears to be apparent crossover. Yes, they are fictionalized, but they are also human beings who think and feel, and the actions, thoughts, and emotions have to come out of somewhere. But is that even fair to say? Would the same analysis be done if the story were presented as a straightforward fiction, rather than purporting to be on some level actualized representations of its actors’ real lives? Is it even fair to say it’s purporting to be that? The lines are blurred as the story progresses, and one can only assume this is purposefully done. In either case, wherever the true/false meter falls upon any given moment of the script or story, the humor and entertainment value ebbs no less in quality.
Steve is not without any level of self awareness. In fact, he is very introspective, even more so than in the first film. Where in The Trip, along the road he would sleep with random women, hotel workers and the like, here Steve seems to find the emptiness in such shallow ways. He also is spending a good deal of the movie talking on the phone, at various points, to his son. His son seems to represent the one thing in his life that he may have truly done right, and he wants to hold onto and foster that relationship as best as he knows how. This counteracts all the ways in which the audience otherwise sees him acting in a manner that may not appear to demonstrate such kindness or empathy.
Rob is much more of a lighter-on-the-surface type of guy. Where Steve seems like a mess much of the time, Rob seems (at first) to sort have figured it all out. He has an ostensibly loving relationship with his wife, (it at first appears), and he is a generally pretty happy-go-lucky guy. He has a successful enough career for his liking, and he does not seem overly fussed about whether or not he becomes some great shining star, in the way that Steve does. Steve seems to envy this kind of contentment in its simplicity.
But as is true in life, nothing is ever really as good or as bad as it may seem. And after a certain incident that takes place one night, and the subsequent relationship ties that break and form as a result, there is a turning point in the perception of Rob as a character. One almost feels like the cynicism of the characters one is watching is beginning to rub off onto the audience. But that brings a realness and a heft into the film, and it adds layers to the story.
A scene that shows Rob alone in his hotel room—just having hung up the phone with his wife, but continuing to talk, as though he were telling her all about his exciting news [about having gotten the film role], knowing that she’s not on the other end of the line listening, and knowing in that same moment, of the ways he has hurt her—is a deeply moving sequence. Simultaneously, his extremely hurt feelings and hurt he has placed onto her is counteracted with humor to mask it (from himself even, as he is all alone in the room). It’s a terrifically insightful and powerful scene.
This is what makes the film so brilliant. There are these heavy themes and events and realities, but all the while it is a truly, deeply hilarious story. The impressions (of Woody Allen, Hugh Grant, Al Pacino, and many, many others, most memorably from the first film and of course again here revisited, being that of Michael Caine) literally leave one breathless in tears of laughter; the two of them are spot on at imitating the various persons of distinctive voice and manner they choose to impersonate, and they’re fantastically humorous in doing so.
The movie is a thrillingly jocular ride, and yet not at all afraid to delve into the pain and real matters of life. Here’s hoping there are many more cinematic foodie trips to come with these two, for the rollicking chemistry of the Coogan/Brydon duo is an onscreen comical talent that cannot be beat.
4.5 out of 5 stars