It was both a joyous and frightening moment when I stumbled upon the first poster for The Trip to Italy. When writer/director Michael Winterbottom and comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon collaborated on their last slice of improvisational genius The Trip, it was a sleeper comedic hit. Travelling through Britain two exaggerated versions of Steve and Rob parried impressions to while away the time between restaurant reviews and tackling Steve’s midlife crisis. Just like The Godfather Part II before it, The Trip to Italy is a sequel that can be referred to as equal or better than the original.
When Steve is on hiatus from his cable series in the U.S and Rob has been approached from U.K publication The Observer to go on another trip but this time to Italy, reviewing the food and following the footsteps of poets Byron and Shelley.
It is immediately evident and refreshing that the duo’s shtick has evolved between films. Rob isn’t merely the inferior terrier to Steve’s stoic, seasoned bulldog. It’s Rob this time that’s the focus point of this existential crisis. Gaining success and notoriety between films has put him into the position that he’s able to touch glory (in the form of a huge acting opportunity) that he’d only dreamed of. Brydon is just perpetually on fire throughout. He’s like a joke and sketch locomotive, continually being the catalyst for their chemistry. Watching their riff on the voices of The Dark Knight Rises absolutely killed me. Steve has evolved, he’s had some acting success, he’s healthier but there’s much stronger emphasis this time on his family and being close enough to them to soak in the lives he’s missed than in the pursuit of the ideal career. Coogan is phenomenal. He’s much more relaxed and centred in a way that he enjoys this trip far more that the first outing. Watching him enjoy being torn to shreds by Rob riffing with a kind of evil Michael Parkinson is just so infectious. Steve’s assistant Lucy (Rosie Fellner) is back and changes the dynamic of the duo. Lucy is that classic movie buff that adds another vein of references for the boys to bounce off. Winterbottom lets his performers loose knowing when to follow them down the rabbit hole of an idea long enough to exhaust the funny but uses deft cuts (especially in the restaurant scenes) to punctuate you to a new thread or idea.
One may be deceived to think that Winterbottom’s script is merely an itinerary for each journey, giving ample time for both Rob and Steve to improvise; but there’s a philosophical sentiment underpinning this road comedy. Winterbottom and his players have a nostalgic yearning for times past either that of poets Byron and Shelley or the Hollywood “golden era,”as their passing through locations made famous by films. One could possibly argue that for all the seeming spontaneity there are so many long lead set ups that eventually pay off later in the film in the most incredible ways. The impressions and references somehow culminate in a commentary or echo of their current experience. Winterbottom doesn’t let them drown in regret; instead they’re living, breathing examples of vintage artists, improving with age. Their literal and emotional journey propels them to new opportunities.
The Trip to Italy is just an assault of laughs, whether it’s duelling impressions, sketches or bickering. However, it’s in that vulnerable state, when your face is sore from laughter and your ears are reverberating with Michael Caine’s voice that Winterbottom torpedos you with emotional truths. The people you love should keep you grounded, tease you incessantly and dwarf your accomplishments; because they know it makes you better.
[rating=4] and a half
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
The Trip to Italy just like The Trip was originally a six part series that aired on the BBC before it was abridged into a film. I’d have to say that after viewing the series and the film as separate entities the series takes The Trip to Italy into ‘peerless’ territory. Some of my favourite, intimate moments between Coogan and Brydon were drastically economised for the theatrical version and not just ‘fat’ or insignificance but entire threads of conversations/sequences that add so much more to the experience. I for one can’t get enough of these characters, so while the movie is a great appetiser, you MUST get your hands on the series.
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
Written by: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Marta Barrio, Rosie Fellner