THE TRIP TO SPAIN
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Marta Barrio, Claire Keelan, Justin Edwards, Rebecca Johnson, Margo Stilley, Timothy Leach, Kerry Shale, Kyle Soller
Running Time: 1:48
Release Date: 8/11/17 (limited); 8/18/17 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | August 17, 2017
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are basically at each other's throats again in The Trip to Spain. This is speaking metaphorically, of course—and not just because neither actor actually tries to strangle the other here. It's also because Coogan and Brydon, the two comic actors, are playing Steve and Rob, the fictionalized versions of themselves, again. They've traveled together to the north of England and Italy, and now, obviously, they're taking a road trip through Spain, once again taking in the beautiful views, eating plenty of food at local restaurants, and doing lots of impressions.
It's the third movie in this series (again edited down from a single season of a television series), and this installment is basically more of the same. The previous entries suffered from a feeling of repetition as Steve and Rob passive-aggressively undermine each other, and this one is no exception to that trend. The entirety of the series, though, also feels that way now. We already know the inevitable direction in which this installment is heading, and save for a rather unexpected final-second revelation, the movie doesn't change up the formula or the characters enough to make this entry feel much different from the previous ones.
That's the bad news. The good news is that Coogan and Brydon are as good as they've been in the previous movies, willing to poke fun at the public personas, their private lives, and their careers in ways that continue to be pretty brave.
There's more conflict here, as the two characters' lives are starting to diverge more rapidly than before. We've always had a sense that Steve and Rob would be really fine enemies, if not for the fact that they have to work together and can tolerate each other's flaws for a bit longer than other people. They're friends, of course, too, but that status seems only nominal at this point. It's not the quality of a good friendship that the so-called pals spend most of their time together seething at the other's happiness or prodding at the other's insecurities. A little of that—a bit of healthy competition between friends—goes a long way. This relationship now looks really unhealthy for the both of them.
What has changed since their last trip is that the two have had some success. Steve was nominated for two Academy Awards, and Rob has appeared in a big-budget Hollywood movie. For his part, Steve finds plenty of opportunities to talk about his nominations, although he dreams of the award ceremony, where someone else named Steve won the screenwriting Oscar. Apparently, he thought they had called his name and was embarrassed when the people with him pointed out that it was a different Steve. All of Steve's dreams are about humiliation—or possible torture in one that has Rob doing a Marlon Brando impression as an official in the Spanish Inquisition. Did Steve mention that he met the Pope? Rob certainly know he has—and repeatedly does.
The dueling impressions return, of course, because that's what everyone remembers and expects from these movies. The two show off their respective Brandos, Robert De Niros, Woody Allens, and, naturally, Michael Caines. The previous impersonation sessions had a certain joy to them in the other movies, but after two movies of the same shtick, they've taken on a certain desperation. This isn't necessarily a negative, because, now, the two actors come across as one-trick ponies, doing that trick over and over again to the amusement of only themselves. The impersonations are still funny. They're simply funny in a different way now.
The entire movie has a slightly different edge to it. The other installments dealt with age, relationships, and careers, but there's a sense of impending finality now, especially for Steve. He should be on the rise at this point, pushing 50 and having the biggest success of his life so far. Instead, his agent in the U.S. has left the firm and left Steve's representation to the agent's former assistant. Steve has another screenplay finished, but the studio wants to bring in another writer. He's convinced he's in love with Mischa (Margo Stilley), who was his girlfriend years ago but is now married, but she's hesitant to visit him on the trip. Steve is excited to see his son Joe (Timothy Leach) on the last stop of the trip. Given Steve's luck, it should be no surprise that there are complications with those plans.
Rob takes a back seat here. His family life is fine, despite the affair he had on the last outing, and he seems as content to be a consummate supporting player in the movies, as long as that means he can see his family as often as possible. He's here, mainly, to serve as a counterpoint to Steve's insecurities, which take on a global importance in the movie's final moments.
One could look at the last revelation of The Trip to Spain as the ultimate joke on how these movies usually leave Steve—alone and uncertain—or as a cliffhanger to get us wanting another sequel. It's uncertain what more could be mined from this formula and these characters, and with that last scene, it feels as if writer/director Michael Winterbottom is admitting his own doubt about a future for these movies.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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