While the conceit of Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Italy is basically a carbon copy of 2010’s The Trip, this follow up is no less winning and is actually more charming than its predecessor. While The Trip was a rare mix of side-splittingly funny and truly touching moments, this second act (A Trip to France, anyone?) is well … more. While you can expect that dueling Michael Caine impressions and the “small man trapped in a box” will make a re-appearance, so too will the introspective moments of true melancholy that helped make the first film much more than a (extraordinarily funny) comic trifle.
For the uninitiated, The Trip was an edited version of a 2010 BBC TV series starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as, well … Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Sort of. They play outsized versions of themselves with fictionalized back stories and personal lives but with strong elements of reality thrown in for good measure. That said, there’s more to it than that.
The premise is relatively simple: Following on their successful trip reviewing top restaurants in the English Lake Country in The Trip, Rob and Steve have been asked by The Observer newspaper to do the same thing in Italy, retracing the journey of the ex-pat English Romantic poets. After cajoling Steve into coming along (he didn’t have to try very hard), Rob rents a Mini Cooper and before you can say “Master Bruce,” the “Michael Caine in The Italian Job” impressions are flowing freely and you know what? It never gets boring.
As with The Trip, the two men bicker as much as they banter, falling into familiar roles. Rob as the relatively happy-go-lucky, up-for-anything traveler and Steve as the significantly more grumpy half of the duo, to whom complaints come easily, especially when it turns out that due to a broken iPod jack, the only music they have to listen to is Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill.”
Before long, the comedy flows, and hysterical bouts of laughter will greet this film wherever it plays. Bits range from whose legs the pair would eat first if they were in an Andean plane crash (A: British track star Mo Farah … but only if he was dead.) to how many Batmen Alfred has buried to weeing on each other for warmth on the side of the Eiger. How these two can get from reading a description of the virtues of the Piemonte countryside to peeing on each other on the side of a mountain in less than 90 seconds is a testament to their genius.
Lest it be thought that The Trip To Italy is 107 minutes of gags however, be assured that there is just as much meat on its bones as there is candied sugar on its parfait. Whereas in the first film Coogan was on a break from his girlfriend and hopped from bed to bed, here we find him in a much more wistful mood, repeatedly making phone calls to his teen-aged son Joe (Timothy Leach) with whom he is trying to re-connect. Joe eventually joins the pair on their trip to Capri, along with Steve’s assistant Emma (Claire Keelan, reprising her role from The Trip). The scenes between Steve and Joe are quite touching, and Claire adds a welcome female presence to a largely masculine endeavor.
Rob, on the other hand, gets repeatedly blown off on the phone by his too busy to talk wife and begins to show some frustrations. On a particularly lovely sailing cruise, Rob hits it off with comely mate, Lucy (Rosie Fellner), and it’s not too long before they end up in bed. While Rob guiltily tries to make sense of what has happened, the film itself leaves it up to the audience as to what to think. No moral high ground (or low ground) is taken, no suggestions for the audience to feel one way or the other. It’s a rather un-preachy and refreshing bit of filmmaking and set amid the stunning vistas of the Amalfi coast, it lends some welcome and balancing mood to the proceedings.
While side-splittingly funny and at times genuinely moving, The Trip To Italy is not without its hiccups, minor as they may seem. As with the first film, the food is given rather short shrift, seen mainly in glimpses and rarely discussed with any detail apart from general “isn’t this lovely?” type of comments. Not only that, but on at least one occasion, Coogan and Brydon order the same dish which, given that they are ostensibly on a tour to write about the restaurants, would never happen. This may seem like “inside baseball,” but it did take me out of the film, if only for a brief nit-picking moment. That said, whatever you do, do not see this on an empty stomach. What there is of the food is jealousy inducing to the extreme.
The only other real qualm I have with the film is the ending. Several threads were left hanging, and it seemed truncated, as if there was another act to come. Perhaps that was Winterbottom’s intention, but it left me feeling slightly disappointed. Not unlike the feeling one gets at the end of a particularly fulfilling vacation. Come to think of it, that probably was the point, all along.
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Writer: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Rosie Fellner, Claire Keelan, Marta Barrio, Timothy Leach
Release Date: Aug. 15, 2014 (limited)