Thursday, May 28, 2020

Movie Review: The Trip to Greece

The Trip to Greece **** / *****
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom.
Starring: Steve Coogan (Steve Coogan), Rob Brydon (Rob Brydon), Kareem Alkabbani (Kareem), Marta Barrio (Yolanda), Cordelia Bugeja (Steve's Ex Wife), Richard Clews (Steve's Dad), Justin Edwards (UK Agent), Rebecca Johnson (Sally), Claire Keelan (Emma), Timothy Leach (Joe), Harry Tayler (Young Dad), Michael Towns (Alexander), Tessa Walker (Chloe).
For the fourth, and apparently final, time in the last 10 years, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon hit the road together, travelling through a different country apparently to eat at fancy restaurants so they can write a magazine piece for The Guardian. No, that doesn’t make much sense, but no, it doesn’t matter at all. The reason to see these movies – and keep seeing them – is to watch these two gifted comedic actors, playing versions of themselves as they try to one-up each other, get through their mid-life crisis (or not) and show off their insecurities. Each movie in the series is good – but it’s one of those series where the sum is greater than the individual parts. It’s always nice to revisit these two – always fun, always funny, but increasingly, the films have become more serious as well, more willing to explore more than just the insecurities of middle-aged, rich, white male entertainers. The last film, The Trip to Spain, left Coogan on a dark road in Africa, being confronted by extremists – all because he wanted to have a “real” adventure, not just the safe ones he had been going on with Brydon for years now. In The Trip to Greece, mortality is a focus – Coogan’s dad is sick during the trip, and he receives updates on his health, while hiding it from Brydon – and everyone else. Brydon, who has always been slightly more secure and together, at least compared to Coogan, starts to feel a little more of the creep of middle age as well. He started his family later than Coogan – whose kids are grown, while Brydon’s are still young. His wife is younger him as well. And he doesn’t want to lose her.
All of this is sprinkled throughout the last chapter of this series – The Trip to Greece – as well as some other moments that puncture the bubble of these two men playing with, and off each other. They like to needle each other, although Coogan, the more famous of the two men, is also more thin skinned. He bristles at the idea of being classified as a “comedian” – even when Brydon points out his BAFTA nomination was for playing a comedian (which leads to the pair doing a funny bit – Laurel and Tom Hardy, which I think I could have watch forever). Brydon has always just felt more comfortable in his skin – more comfortable with his position in life, his career, etc. Coogan is always striving for something else – something just out of reach.
The pair, of course, need each other. They need to have that audience, the validation that they give to each other. It’s why they keep coming back together again. There is a certain comfort level between the two of them that has grown through these movies. To be honest, I could go on watching more installments of The Trip every three years for the rest of Coogan and Brydon’s lives. Each new chapter continues to be funny, even if the pair do repeat some bits (perhaps, especially because they do) – and because each new chapter finds them in a slightly different phase of life, running away from slightly different problems, confronting something new. Taken separately, each of these movies is good. As a whole, this series is something altogether more special – perhaps the crowning achievement of the careers of Coogan, Brydon and director Michael Winterbottom. Before Winterbottom made these films, he made one of the worst of his career – The Road to Guantanamo, about some friends who unwittingly found themselves in the American prison for terrorists, through a series of what could be called a comedy of errors. It was about people who didn’t really know what they were getting themselves into – who were blinkered from the outside world. It also didn’t really work – it was a fiction/documentary hybrid, and Winterbottom never found the right tone. Oddly, with The Trip movies, he seems to have accomplished something similar. He has always shown the difference between Coogan and Brydon, and the restaurant workers preparing their meals. Over the course of the series, he’s gradually allowed more and more of the outside world to intrude on the proceedings – here there is even an acknowledgement of the European refugee crisis, done in a comic way.
As an individual chapter in this series, The Trip to Greece is better than the other three chapters. But as a capping off of this decade long project, it makes you appreciate just what the trio here has accomplished. If this is indeed the last chapter, then I’ll miss the series. If they decide to do more, I for one, couldn’t be happier.

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