The Trip to Spain *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom.
Written by: Michael Winterbottom.
Starring: Steve Coogan (Steve), Rob Brydon (Rob), Claire Keelan (Emma), Rebecca Johnson (Sally - Rob's Wife), Justin Edwards (Greg), Kerry Shale (Matt), Marta Barrio (Yolanda), Margo Stilley (Mischa), Timothy Leach (Joe), Tom Clegg (Busker), Kyle Soller (Jonathan).
There are now “Trip” movies, all directed by Michael Winterbottom – the prolific English director, who seems to be slowing down a little bit now (perhaps having concluded he’s just about accomplished the goal of having a film of every genre) and starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing versions of themselves, and the drive around a country, stopping at various, amazing looking restaurants apparently for “magazine pieces” and generally riffing with each other. The comedians are competitive, but mainly friendly and by this third film, they’ve more or less settled into a routine. Yes, they can still grate on each other’s nerves, and play games of one upmanship – but they more or less understand each other, and give each other enough slack.
We’ve seen them in North England in 2010’s The Trip and Italy in 2014’s The Trip to Italy, and now, of course, we see the pair of them in Spain. Coogan is the bigger international star of course, and has the ego to prove it – not least of which because he received an Academy Award nomination for co-writing Philomena a few years ago, a fact he will mention to anyone if given half to chance. He’s also the more neurotic and insecure of the two of them still sort of struggling with his now 20-year old son, and an affair with a much younger woman, who happens to be married to someone else. Brydon has a young family himself (at 50, he says he snuck them in under the wire), and while the movie gets a laugh in the opening scene as Brydon surveys his life – including his crying 2-year-old – before immediately agreeing to another trip, he seems pretty comfortable and happy in his domestic life, and in his marriage.
The films don’t strain for any sort of relevance really – they know they are more or less meaningless, and an excuse to watch these two comedians riff with each other. The dueling impressions have become infamous – and while nothing here matches the brilliance of their Michael Caine’s in The Trip to Italy, there are good moments here where they compare Mick Jagger’s and David Bowie’s. There is a (very) one near the end where they start doing dueling Roger Moore’s – trying to impress two of the women who have shown up to help them through a photoshoot – and Coogan eventually tries to impress them with his knowledge of Spain – only to have Brydon just keeping going and going and going (and going) with his Roger Moore, which goes from hilarious to painfully awkward more than once. The movie only really hints at darker things that in their both of their minds – particularly Coogan’s – who is more apt to get hurt or embarrassed and sulk away (“He doesn’t like to be told things he thinks he knows” Brydon offers a young man who offends Coogan with travel advice).
The ending of The Trip to Spain is a little strange. I thought that movie was pretty much ending because Brydon and everyone else apart from Coogan are return to England – but Coogan stays for a little, and then travels farther. I don’t quite know what to make of it. But I do hope that Coogan and Brydon take another trip at some point. While you would think the charm of these films would have worn off by now, it really hasn’t.