Director: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Rosie Fellner, Claire Keelan, Timothy Leach
Running Time: 108 minutes
THE TRIP TO ITALY is sumptuous, delicious, and most of all hilariously funny. Not funny in a “British” way, but legitimately uproariously funny. It is a film that is ostensibly about food, but in actuality is about male friendship, movies, intimate relationships and a little bit about food. That is, in fact, one of the funniest aspects of the film; it is filled with incredible looking food – meals which are the raison d’être of the entire journey – chefs and sous chefs slaving away in Italian kitchens, gorgeous sea creatures and handmade pastas – and yet the men barely mention the food itself. This movie is a follow-up to 2010’s THE TRIP as well as a 2 season television series of the same name in the UK, and also starring Steve Coogan and Rob Byrdon. Having not seen the previous film/ television series I can only speak of this film as a stand alone feature, and that is a good thing because it does stand on its own. It’s own wobbly, silly, hilarious four feet.
Coogan and Brydon, playing film versions of themselves, are asked to tour Italy and review restaurants. Rob is highly enthusiastic whereas Steve seems reluctant to reenact their previous meal related journeys. Needless to say before too long they are cruising through the splendor of Italy in a convertible Mini Cooper. Life’s not bad. The scenery is magnificent and the men’s silent guest on this journey is the great romantic poet Lord Byron. Byron lived in Italy for 7 years and Rob, liberally spouting Byron’s poetry every possible chance he gets, albeit in any voice other than his own, insists that Steve take photos of him in front of plaques and homes related to Lord Byron. One of the more persistent jokes in the film is that Brydon, a master of impersonation and largely unknown to American audiences, is incapable of reciting poetry in his own voice. He can convincingly recite poetry and just about anything in any number of other British men’s vociferation, but his own voice cannot seem to summon the confidence and power he wants for himself. Coogan being no hack at impersonations himself engages in extraordinarily involved and funny dialogues with Brydon in multiple alter egos. His phrasing and vernacular will be familiar to those who have seen his work and he dishes out great metaphors. When describing an appetizer he refers to it as, “very Jules Verne.” The conversation is rapid fire, ever shifting and references dozens of other films so much so that if you aren’t up on your film allusions you will miss much of the humor in the movie.
Like MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, Coogan and Brydon appear to be playing themselves, but to what extent this is all genuine is hard to tell. One does get the distinct feeling that we are spying upon the private moments of these two men. Their talk is so comfortable, so in sync. It is the fast paced intimate banter of close friends who know each other so well they anticipate the other’s thoughts and words. It is tremendously enjoyable and all the while they are shoveling exquisite meals into their mouths, participating in subtle work related competition, sharing about their private lives and relationships and driving through the Italian countryside to the most unexpected soundtrack one can imagine. While the film is lighthearted Coogan and Brydon give us age, sex, and death, along with the all too real shifts which come with middle age. But still, it’s confessional light.
THE TRIP TO ITALY is somewhat self-involved but the pair are so funny and charming, and it is such a luxurious ride through the loose story that it doesn’t matter. I’d drive through any country with the two of them. As we sit through another lengthy lunch we begin to feel that the story is lagging ever so slightly. What is the message? Where are we really going here? Do they want us to derive something deeper? Bigger? It is then that THE TRIP TO ITALY tries to neatly wrap itself up with a semblance of resolution and meaning. It is a little too little too late, but after such a good time you don’t really care. Each man has made choices, changes and is moving forward, just like we all must in our own lives. Sometimes those transitions in life submerge us like a tidal wave, other times it’s like crossing the same street you’ve walked a hundred times but seeing it anew. The direction by Michael Winterbottom, who has worked with Coogan & Brydon previously, allows the men liberal space to just ‘do their thing’ and it’s hard to estimate how much is actual direction and how much is refereeing. It matters not. Having toured England’s finest restaurants in THE TRIP, and now Italy’s, I can only imagine the delights that await Coogan and Brydon in…France? South America? Heaven forbid – America?!?!?