Michael Winterbottom’s marriage of friendship and cuisine teaches us something special about life’s under-appreciated beauty. Think about how many times you barbarically power through a meal, either while watching mind-numbing television, chained to your desk at work, or squeezed in between hectic life events. Isn’t it sad how we take such a joyous occasion for granted? Meals should be shared escapes, exploring flavors and discovering new emotions, but more importantly, they should bring people together for a bit of peace, relaxation, and joyful interaction. The Trip nails this mentality, showcasing Winterbottom’s magnificent command over Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, and The Trip To Italy only builds upon the duo’s hilarious first effort. Hope you didn’t fill up on the appetizer, because Winterbottom’s second course is a truly decadent comedic treat.
Following Steve and Rob’s first foodie journey on behalf of the UK Observer, the boys are called upon again for another rousing report – this time traversing Italy’s expansive flavor profile. Fresh pastas, vibrant spices and perfectly cooked seafood await our “journalists,” but once again, they’ll test their friendship through a series of sarcastic gags and jokes on the other’s behalf. Of course it’s all in jest, as Steve and Rob spend their days chowing down and laughing heartily, and we’re permitted to ride shotgun for the entire winning ordeal.
Winterbottom’s “script” is basically a freeform stand-up routine on the parts of Brydon and Coogan, who spend countless scenes doing nothing but impersonating their favorite actors. Without food in front of them, the mood always seems to be a tad more serious, but once mealtime commences, we’re waiting on pins and needles to see what impressions surface next. An extensive list builds as the film confidently pushes on, including the likes of every single James Bond actor, many classic actors, and a few stars of The Godfather, but nothing beats one of the very first laugh battles between Coogan and Brydon.
Discussing The Dark Knight Rises, stemming off of a Michael Caine bit, the inaudible nature of Tom Hardy’s Bane and Christian Bale’s Batman creates a wittily relentless in-character dialogue as a measly PA tries to pass notes from Christopher Nolan to the two mumbling talents (Brydon mostly). Developing their own sketch mid-meal, these intelligent comedians showcase tremendous staying-power by riffing seamlessly off one another, scoring belly-busting laughs that never seem to disappear. Throughout the film each comic utilizes morbid humor, deadpan reactions and sarcastic jabs, but nothing matches their versions of Caine whimpering “Master Bruce!”
Winterbottom’s balancing act of riotous banter and dramatic setups is as volatile as a master chef’s recipe, because even with the slightest signs of over-seasoning, the entire experience could leave an unfortunate aftertaste. A dash of familiarity, a sprinkle of lusty dramatics, and a smidgen of genuine bonding pull together this Italian road-trip, but Coogan and Brydon are the binding ingredients holding Winterbottom’s exquisite dish together. Their conversations and musings are both intellectual and uproarious, quoting learned poets while humiliating the fruit “kumquat” because of it’s suggestive name, and their flow is impeccably seamless. Chemistry doesn’t even factor between these chums, as we simply watch two incredibly funny impressionists compete in a light-hearted battle of wits. Coogan’s straighter demeanor playfully instigates Brydon’s more rambunctious rantings, as getting the last word in becomes a triumphant achievement when the other comedian backs down. The Trip To Italy essentially becomes Britain’s answer to America’s mumblecore movement, replacing rambling nonsense with cheeky mile-a-minute jokesters enjoying the simplicity of life while spitting an uninterrupted stream of comedic gold.
As a director, Winterbottom probably just sat around while Coogan and Brydon kept the crew in stitches, but his artistic eye helps elsewhere, punctuating each perfect exchange. Sure, the rustic Italian settings and enchanting coastal scenery do most of Winterbottom’s job, but each tantalizing morsel wolfed down takes careful preparation in a feverish kitchen, and these moments act as conversation bookends. It’s almost as if Winterbottom adds these signifying shots to remind us of the careful and meticulous preparation that goes into filmmaking itself, because it’s so indulgently easy to forget Coogan and Brydon are even “acting” – their on-screen personas easily pass as second nature. The Trip To Italy captures every beautiful, succulent second of sun-soaked living, juxtaposed against a blank canvas and non-serious laughter, for an entrancing blend of escapism bliss.
The Trip To Italy is exactly that – escapist cinema. Coogan and Brydon may technically be “working” as taste-testing journos, but while dining, all their problems vanish, embracing every savory, sweet, juicy, bite. Once nightfall hits, each actor retires to their daily problems, calling home or auditioning for their next gig and becoming entangled in “reality.” We lose touch of life’s revitalizing simplicity when caught in our own chaotic schedules, ignoring something so “insignificant” as a proper lunch, yet Winterbottom turns a few ravioli into infectious smiles, raw jokes, and freeing distractions. This Italian joyride is a celebration, a bit of nostalgia, and a darkly revealing dramedy all rolled into one – but every scene bursts with life.
Dare I say I’d watch Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon do just about anything after gobbling up The Trip To Italy? These two constant pranksters harken back to iconic pairings such as Matthau and Lemmon or Wilder and Pryor, working simultaneously as co-workers and charismatic friends. Winterbottom’s sequel does take a brief second to acknowledge how follow-up films never find that same unique magic (à la 22 Jump Street, à la Transformers: Age Of Extinction, à la…the list goes on), but after that quick self-deprecating pun, Coogan and Brydon are off to the races, pulling impression after impression out of their never-ending bag of tricks. As tantalizing as the world class meals are, The Trip To Italy layers comedy, sincerity, humanity and liveliness, not only depicting a divine vacation bursting with mouth-watering stops, but a revealing exploration of life’s more important moments – and how we shamefully take them for granted. A dynamite meal, better company, and a perfectly aged bottle of Italian vino – is there any better way to soak in life’s beauty?
The Trip To Italy is a near-perfect sequel once again filled with delectable treats, non-stop laughter, and a slew of impressions that almost outshine the gorgeous plates of 5-Star Italian delicacies.