By Linc Leifeste | August 29, 2014
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Writer: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Rosie Fellner, Claire Keelan, Marta Barrio, Timothy Leach
The first question prompted by the news that Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have returned for another trip with director Michael Winterbottom, this time to Italy, is probably, “Why?” And the probable answer to that is simple. Coogan and Brydon have great chemistry, I’m sure they’re endless (professional) fun to direct and work with, and the sequel to The Trip meant a paid (work) getaway to breathtakingly beautiful Italian locales for all involved. I suspect the next question for fans of the trio and their earlier work might be, “How does this installment hold up in comparison?” That question, for better or worse, I’m unable to answer, as The Trip to Italy was my first trip with the trio.
The premise of the film is that Coogan and Brydon, playing slightly fictionalized versions of themselves, are on an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy for the Observer, serving as food writers. The funny thing is that neither men really know much about food and the film never really spends any time or effort talking about the food that we see the men eating. This trip is a reprise of an earlier such experiment, evidently successful, in which the two traveled around the North of England.
This time around, the pair travel to six different restaurants in Italy, taking in the sights, sounds, hotels, and women, along with the cuisine. Most of their traveling is done in a Cooper Mini convertible while listening to Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. Coogan and Brydon quoting, singing along with and analyzing those Morissette lyrics (as well as the nature of her name) makes for some comedy gold. And truth be told, most of the film’s moments that allow the two men to riff with each other are uproariously funny and show the two to be arguably comedic geniuses. The puns, impersonations, jabs and jokes fly with the speed, intensity and diversity of a Robin Williams standup routine, meaning that this is a film that begs for repeat viewings. And by that, I really mean about half of the jokes and references flew somewhere slightly above and to the side of my head, yet somehow I never really felt like I was being left behind.
Some of the film’s funniest moments occur when the two friends, who are also highly competitive, are allowed to riff at length, such as when they do an extended bit about the voices of Christian Bale’s Batman and Tom Hardy’s Bain in The Dark Knight Rises. Another such moment occurs when the two are visiting the museum at Pompeii and Brydon does his “voice-in-a-box” to carry on an imaginary conversation with one of the volcano victim’s preserved remains, which are sealed inside a glass case for visitors to observe. Most of the hilarious exchange comes at the expense of the more introspective Coogan, after he has questioned the propriety of making a joking matter out of the man’s plight.
And that brings us to the other side of The Trip to Italy, which presents a melancholic and introspective take on life and friendship that often feels almost documentary-like in its slow-paced, subdued presentation. Coogan and Brydon are both dealing with the thoughts of mortality that come along at a certain point in life and they’re also dealing with the challenges and struggles of a shared career in entertainment, a career that often by nature involves narcissism and insecurity. Coogan’s character is divorced and seemingly a bit adrift in life and there’s a storyline involving his teenage son (Timothy Leach) and their floundering efforts to connect again on a deeper level. Brydon’s character, seemingly the slightly more carefree of the two, is married with a young daughter and his career is possibly on an upswing, but that doesn’t stop him from having a fling with a beautiful guide (Rosie Fellner).
Ultimately though, none of the storylines, much like the film as a whole, really go anywhere. Instead, they just contribute to an overall mood and feeling. My understanding is that both films are distillations of TV series that were originally broadcast on the BBC and my gut tells me that this story would be better served by the episodic pacing inherent in the TV format. Not to say that the movie is a failure. The Trip to Italy is a completely amiable boon to the Italian travel industry, a slight yet smart and witty film that is at times uproariously funny and at times a moving chronicle of the challenges and rewards of friendship but also one that, much like life itself, tends to drag at times.