THE TRIP TO ITALY
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Rosie Fellner, Claire Keelan, Marta Barrio, Timothy Leach, Ronni Ancona, Rebecca Johnson
Running Time: 1:48
Release Date: 8/15/14 (limited); 8/22/14 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | August 21, 2014
There is a genuinely good-hearted rapport between Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip to Italy. Anyone who has seen The Trip will question this statement, and there's good reason for skepticism. That movie saw the two actors playing versions of themselves that were not particularly flattering. Steve's ego almost always got the better of him, and Rob came across as desperate to showcase his skills at celebrity impersonations. The heart of the original movie was a petty one: Rob couldn't help himself in displaying his talents at every turn, and Steve needed to show that he could anything better than Rob could.
That professional rivalry was boiling just to the brim at every moment. There was genuine tension, and the movie's humor was not so much about the jokes and the impressions as it was about watching one character try to undermine the other.
Two people doing impressions of Michael Caine is amusing, but watching those characters dissect each other's imitation introduced some real stakes to the exercise. It was funny because they both treated something relatively insignificant as the gravest of matters. One saying that the other's impersonation isn't quite right was essentially saying that the other's talents are a sham. Every comedic duel between Steve and Rob was a way for one to say to the other, "You might think you're good at what you do, but here's why you're dead wrong."
Rob was more polite about it, and maybe our perspective of him was tarnished by Steve's barely hidden disdain for his colleague. Well, when the pair reunites to take another road trip to various restaurants for a series of articles about food and the journey, it's a little startling to see that the tension between the two men has all but dissipated. Is that a smile on Steve's face when Rob revisits a joke that had annoyed Steve to no end on their last trip?
Now when they break out the Caine impressions, it leads to an improvised riff on the subject of the vocal choices of Tom Hardy and Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises and imagining a poor assistant director trying to convince the actors that perhaps they aren't comprehensible. There's a jovial give-and-take between Steve and Rob. The competition is absent.
It's difficult to believe that the relationship between Coogan and Brydon hadn't evolved over the course of the last movie, which wasn't just a story about two characters traveling the North of England. It was also a documentary of sorts about two actors discovering what their scene partner had to offer. The line between the real Coogan and Brydon and the characters of Steve of Rob was fuzzy then, and it's even more ambiguous in this movie, which follows the actors/characters as they tour Italy to partake of the local cuisine. It should go without saying that the backdrops—from Naples to Capri to Rome to Pompeii—are lovely.
Their professional and personal lives are changing. Steve recently learned that the television show he is on (One might recall that he was resistant to doing TV, insisting that he should be in more movies instead) has been cancelled. Along the way, Rob gets a call from his agent saying that he's being eyed to play a juicy supporting role in a Michael Mann thriller.
Steve, who had been distant from his family, wants to get closer to his teenage son (Timothy Leach), and Rob, a devoted family man when we last saw him, is unimpressed with the life of being a parent. The philandering Steve now notices that younger women are looking right through him (They don't even think his stares are lecherous, given that, he supposes, they don't think he could do anything anyway). Rob is smitten with the guide on a boat tour (Rosie Fellner) and is equal parts ashamed and proud—maybe a little more proud—that their night together goes "too well."
These characters are developing separately from each other and from what they believed their lives would be. There's a feeling of incomplete transition accompanying it, as if writer/director Michael Winterbottom (once again editing a season from BBC sitcom to a feature-length movie) has some overarching plan for where these characters are going but isn't quite ready to take them there. For now, they're in limbo between the characters they were and whatever they might become. It's an intriguing concept, but the resulting narrative is frustratingly uncertain.
A lot of that has to do with the shift in the dynamic between these characters and the actors portraying them. The first movie had a sense of daring to their scenes together and in the performances. Coogan and Brydon were unafraid to chide themselves and each other in the guise of their alter egos, and their improvisations possessed some self-deprecating and mildly rude bite. In The Trip to Italy, it feels as if they're simply doing a routine, and it's the same shtick we've already seen.
Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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