“We aren’t going to do any impersonations, are we? Because we talked about that.”
Prolific filmmaker Michael Winterbottom returns to the wonderful and witty world of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon eating a lot of tasty-looking food and trying to one-up each other with uncanny celebrity impersonations in The Trip to Italy, a satisfying follow-up to 2010’s The Trip. Again retained by The Observer to put together a round of lightly fictionalized restaurant reviews with some trademark color commentary (this time in Italy), the film opens with Brydon inviting Coogan along for another adventure in eating, drinking, and just giving each other a lot of shit. Fortunately, Coogan accepts the offer (and all the five-star accommodations that go along with it).
Though it may sound just a bit cliché and a tad trite, it also just so happens to be true: if you loved The Trip, you’ll love The Trip to Italy. Winterbottom and the lads have essentially changed locations, mixed around a bit of drama, and served up a film very much like their first one. Luckily, The Trip and The Trip to Italy are not films that rely on large-scale plot movements and big character revelations, and the things that worked well the first time work almost as well the second. The food looks better, too.
Consistently tongue-in-cheek, the guys quibble over possible “second album syndrome” and how sequels are always invariably bad (Brydon, of course, sees this as a call to action to defend The Godfather: Part II, aided by plenty of mealy-mouthed voicework) during their first meal in the Italian countryside. The quips (and, yes, the quibbles) don’t stop, and Coogan and Brydon’s crackling chemistry remains the best thing about this blossoming franchise. The Trip films may be about travel and food and indulgence, but they are fundamentally buddy comedies, and nobody else does the genre quite like Coogan and Brydon.
There are also the pair’s trademark impersonations to enjoy, and there are plenty to go around in The Trip to Italy, including some long-form Godfather bits and a particularly inspired takedown of The Dark Knight Rises. Coogan and Brydon zing between their various impressions, making this new outing the only movie that can boast star turns from (the guys’ impersonations of) stars like Michael Caine, Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anthony Hopkins, Hugh Grant, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Humphrey Bogart, Woody Allen, and many more.
Visually, the film is stimulating and more than a little hunger-inducing. Like the first film, the restaurant scenes are intercut with shots of the food being prepared in various kitchens, gliding out of pans and onto plates and away into dining rooms. Coogan and Brydon haven’t slowed down their eating in the slightest, and The Trip to Italy is a fine feast for the eyes, three-course lunches and all. The landscape of Italy also takes center stage, and Winterbottom and his cinematographer James Clarke lovingly and crisply capture the country from top to bottom.
Of course, the boys aren’t just indulging in food and wine on their latest trip, there are other physical pleasures to be had, and the lingering complications from such dalliances hangs over the film, giving it just the right amount of medicinal melancholy. Similarly, the film’s extremely lovely score appropriately soars before ebbing down into something just a smidge sad, just a touch mournful. The trip itself may be wonderful and rich, but the real world waits on the other side – or at least until Coogan and Brydon get back at it in another country, just waiting to be gobbled up (and probably also impersonated for major laughs).
The Upside: Coogan and Brydon’s chemistry, witty and entertaining jokes and banter, stunning locations, delicious-looking food, and a meandering charm.
The Downside: If you don’t like Coogan, Brydon, Italian food, or meandering charm, just about everything listed as an upside will irk you. (Also, it feels as if it runs ten minutes too long and basically cribs from the original appeal of the first film.)
On the Side: Early on in the film, Brydon ribs Coogan for his work as the character of Alan Partridge – the next Coogan film to be released in the U.S. is the second Partridge feature, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, set to hit theaters in February.