Director Michael Winterbottom
Starring Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Marta Barrio
The Trip film series is an odd concept. Take two middle aged comedians, send them on a trip to eat at various high class restaurants, where they will joke around, and suffer some sort of existential angst along the way. When that is successful, do it again in another country. All of which is the cut down version, edited for theatrical release, of a TV series. Yet the film series has its appeal, and has certainly found its audience.
This third iteration in the series sees Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon hopping on a ferry and heading to Spain, to indulge in luxurious repasts to review for their respective papers. Coogan is suffering career anxiety after a failure to capitalise on the success of Philomena, while Brydon is dealing with the highs and lows of being away from his young family.
For those of you familiar with The Trip series, this is more of the same. Gratuitous food porn, lingering mid-life crises, stunning locations, an interesting dose of history, and a number of hilarious impersonations of actors. Coogan and Brydon play close proximities to their off screen persona, burdened with a similar career history, that often blurs the lines between fact and fiction. It is an exercise in middle class, over-educated, existential ennui, and if you are the target audience then it hits home with the force of a freight train (or in this case, an over-packed Range Rover driven by two aging comedians singing along to easy listening tunes).
I am. Lord help me, I am. And it really does hit home.
At the surface level, it is just enjoyable to see the two comedians riffing off each other, encouraging each other to go further with a routine or a joke, each adding a touch of inspiration. Yet this has never been all there is to The Trip series of films. There is always a tinge of sadness and the sense of loss for what might have been. Coogan carries this like a badge through the film series, never quite being where he deems he should be professionally, nor with the personal life he would want either. Brydon by contrast is the less successful, but a more family orientated jobbing actor. It’s little wonder that they are cast by the publicist as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the dreamer aristocrat and the pragmatic plebeian.
With the history presented by The Trip to Spain that undertone of melancholy becomes even more entrenched. It is the history of Moorish occupation, bloody reconquest, Inquisition, and a fascist Franco regime. In a remarkably light way they explore a bloody past, all of which sets the ground work, for one of the most tonally whiplash inducing final scenes we will see this year. Almost as if director Michael Winterbottom is examining repeating historical patterns of civilised decadence and brutal decline, in a light travel comedy about two aging comedians eating their way across a country.
As with all the series, this film rests on a tripod of three factors. The beautiful scenery of the country in question (obviously Spain this time), which Winterbottom vividly brings to life with numerous sweeping drone shots. A gourmand spread of exotic food, adequately supplied by Spain’s cuisine tradition of a reliance on good produce and simple preparation to allow those produces to speak for itself. Finally the comic timing between Coogan and Brydon, which is fine tuned in this iteration. The standout sequence being Brydon continuing with a Roger Moore impression long past the point of the joke, till it actually loops around to become funny again.
The Trip to Spain may follow the well trodden route of the previous films, but it does it well with beautiful cinematography and deft comedic flourishes. The end result is something that matches the level of quality of its predecessors, even if you notice that it is working harder to do so.