Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Movie Review: The Trip to Italy

The Trip to Italy
Directed by:  Michael Winterbottom.
Written by: Michael Winterbottom.
Starring: Steve Coogan (Steve), Rob Brydon (Rob), Rosie Fellner (Lucy), Claire Keelan (Emma), Marta Barrio (Yolanda), Timothy Leach (Joe), Ronni Ancona (Donna).

The Trip to Italy is the third movie this summer – following Chef and The Hundred-Foot Journey – which could be described as food porn. The difference between this film and those two other films is that for me at least, I actually enjoyed the film itself – and all that delicious looking food was an added bonus, and not the main show. A follow-up to The Trip, where Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon played fictional versions of themselves, travelling through North England stopping at restaurants along the way for a series of articles for The Observer, The Trip to Italy has the exact same premise, except, obviously, this time they’re in Italy. In the first film, not to mention Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story from the same director (Michael Winterbottom), which also cast Coogan and Brydon as themselves, found the two as rivals. Coogan, in particular, was rather petty and small in those previous films – he is the more famous of the two (especially outside England, where Brydon is barely known at all) – yet Coogan still seemed somewhat jealous of Brydon, who was much more comfortable in his own skin, and much more comfortable being known as a comic actor instead of anything else, while Coogan dreamed of being the star of a Coen brother movie. The rivalry is still present in The Trip to Italy – but it’s much more muted. The two have settled into an fairly easy friendship – and even when Brydon gets offered a role in a Michael Mann movie, which clearly makes Coogan jealous, it’s never really remarked on – instead it’s all done with looks from Coogan, and a few back handed compliments.

The movie is at its best when it’s just Coogan and Brydon alone – either at one of the various restaurants they eat at, or alone in the car (where they are often singing along to Alanis Morissette) and the two of them are just basically trying to make each other last. The pair break out their greatest hits – dueling Michael Caine impressions for example – with great results, but also adds some new material in it as well. The two like an audience – and late in the film when they have one, they go even bigger, trying to top each other, and get bigger laughs from their appreciative audience.

I think the movie works a little better than the original The Trip – perhaps simply because the scenery in Italy is better than in Northern England, but also, I think, because the movie seems a little more relaxed. Coogan and Brydon aren’t trying quite as hard this time to one-up each other, and instead work together as a great comic team. Also, in the last film it seemed like the Steve Coogan show, with Brydon as little more than a sidekick, but this time they are given equal weight (or perhaps a little more on Brydon). The original film had a subplot about Coogan’s domestic difficulties – and this time it’s Brydon’s turn. He seemed content with his marriage in the last film – this time, a few years and a child later – it’s not quite that simple.

The film is perhaps a little too long, perhaps takes a few too many detours, and tries a little too hard at times to go a little deeper than a typical comedy, and perhaps has too many conversations about Roman Holiday (1953). Yet these distractions are all at least amusing – the film is never less than pleasant, and often much more. The Trip to Italy has more laugh out loud moments than any Hollywood comedy so far this year (at least of the ones that come immediately to mind). Director Winterbottom, who has pretty much made every type of movie imaginable, is smart enough to stay out of the way of Coogan, Brydon and the gorgeous scenery and food. I hope this isn’t the last trip Coogan and Brydon take together.

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