It’s entirely possible that Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Italy is the most gorgeous looking comedy to ever exist. With stellar shots of the various vistas, restaurants, seaside villas, and popular locales that make up the country of Italy, you can’t help but feel as though you’ve been granted a full-access pass to “la dolce vita.” Indeed, Winterbottom’s funny but more observant sequel to 2010’s The Trip (a comedy series in the BBC that was edited down for theatrical release) draws heavy inspiration from Federico Fellini’s iconic La Dolce Vita, not so much in terms of style but it certainly touches on the notion that the beauty and grandeur of Italy can’t fully heal the pangs of loneliness within. Don’t get me wrong, though — the film is anything but a downer. The Trip to Italy is utterly hilarious thanks to its two mega-captivating leads, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, who are back for another memorable road trip to clear the mind and enliven the spirit.
While humor is clearly this film’s strong suit, I couldn’t help but admire the extra care and consideration Winterbottom, Coogan and Brydon have for these characters, even if they are only fictional versions of Coogan and Brydon’s real-life personas. What first started off as a funny little road trip movie about food and friendship is turning into an involving passion project that reminds me of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, where there’s this strong three-way collaborative process between star and director that almost becomes the most attractive aspect of the entire venture. Seriously, folks, this is one summer delight that will remain with you for the rest of the year.
The Trip to Italy takes place a few years after the first outing and instead of roaming the Northern European countryside to sample the finest cuisine of the land, the merry duo of Coogan and Brydon are tasked by The Observer magazine to head south. Italy is their destination, a country filled with historic value, prolific culture and some of the most delicious food mankind has to offer. Sure, pasta is no “South Beach Diet,” as Coogan astutely points out, but how can you possibly complain when the ambiance is even more sumptuous than the meals being consumed? Once again, Winterbottom does an excellent job intercutting the dialogue between Coogan and Brydon with a behind-the-scenes view into the kitchen as the chefs prepare each scrumptious-looking dish. You really get a feel for the expensive dining experience, much like you would while watching an episode of Bravo’s Top Chef, but it’s a little more special to witness in a theatrical setting. Cheers to Michael Winterbottom for making audiences feel like they are fully immersed in Coogan and Bryden’s restaurant escapades.
The meal conversations, however, are by far by film’s biggest sources of entertainment. Brydon, as some people may know, is a well-regarded voice impersonator and once again has us in laughing fits when he attempts to mimic well-known thespians. This time around, The Trip to Italy’s extended dialogue sequences are more focused and well aware that a punch line is coming, versus coming off experimental, where the jokes don’t always land and/or go a bit off course like they occasionally did in The Trip. I cannot tell you how loud I guffawed during Coogan and Brydon’s conversation about The Dark Knight Rises, specifically when they touched upon Michael Caine’s ridiculous bit of overacting when he confronted “Master Bruce,” and how difficult it was to understand Tom Hardy as Bane. The rowdy yet lovable actors also do fabulous impersonations of Hugh Grant, Marlon Brando and Pierce Brosnan, among their many other fascinating riffs.
The road trip segments are also quite a thrill, as Coogan and Brydon tap into their inner hippie rock goddess while jamming out to Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill album. Pop culture references and subsequent discussions provide a bulk of the laughter in the film, but they are also used to steer the characters into a more contemplative state of being. Coogan perhaps edged out Brydon in the first film in terms of dynamism as an actor, but I have to give it to Brydon this time around. He’s so much more than just a one-note voice and impersonation actor, giving us layer after layer of the sadness that truly resides within this fictional character he plays, who uses comedy to mask all his worries and hang-ups. Brydon makes a seemingly unforgivable mistake during the course of the trip, but after a refreshingly honest conversation with Observer coordinator Emma (Claire Keelan), you begin to realize that a midlife crisis is sometimes necessary for people in order to reawaken a part of themselves that they imprisoned so long ago.
Coogan’s side plot isn’t as strong as Brydon’s, mainly because his former fling in the first film is reintroduced but nothing interesting comes of it. However, Coogan is still an essential part of the The Trip to Italy’s humor and nails every dramatic or comedic challenge Winterbottom throws his way. Amusing from beginning to end, Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Italy isn’t quite the breath of fresh air that The Trip was, but in many ways is the stronger film that seems destined for a follow-up in a few year’s time. IFC Films’ The Trip to Italy hits theaters tomorrow, August 15th, so be sure to check out this gem when it comes to a cinema near you.
Check out the film’s trailer below:
Plus, it’s imperative you view this clip featuring Coogan and Brydon discussing The Dark Knight Rises: