Steve (Steve Coogan) and Rob (Rob Brydon) eat their way around Italy, stopping off in Liguria, Tuscany, Rome, Amalfi, and Capri. A sequel to The Trip, directed by Michael Winterbottom.
Being stuck on holiday with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (particularly Rob Brydon) would be a nightmare. They never shut up. Even when the food is divine and the scenery’s sublime, these two middle-aged men can’t stop egging each other on in an endless duel of competing impressions and funny voices. Luckily these are often hilarious – genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. But it’s as if they’re afraid of being quiet; terrified that if they stop clowning like performing seals they might disappear, or even worse, have to confront their own self-loathing and ennui.
This sly depiction of male middle-aged desperation is actually part of the genius of Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip movies. While the first film (The Trip, 2010) followed the odd couple as they did a series of restaurant reviews in England’s dreary Lake District, The Trip to Italy is a sunnier and more exotic adventure – though ‘adventure’ is really too strong a word. The blokes meander in a Mini, sampling pasta-rich meals in Liguria, Tuscany, Rome, Amalfi and finally ending rather abrubtly on the sunset coast of Capri. All the while they riff on themes of fame, success and mortality, coloured by musings on the poets Shelley and Byron in whose footsteps they’re treading.
Not too much happens. Rob has a little extramarital fling with a British tour-guide (Rosie Fellner) and auditions by Skype for a role as a ‘Mafia accountant’ in a Michael Mann film. This elicits undercurrents of jealousy in Steve, whose own career is in ‘hiatus’. He hooks up again with the newspaper photographer (Marta Barrio) and tries to reconnect, in some poignant understated scenes, with his teenaged son (Timothy Leach).
Loosely plotted and largely improvised (no screenwriter is credited for either of the films) the two actors, playing fictional versions of themselves, were given scenarios and subjects to discuss by the director. These allow for some wonderful exchanges and running jokes. The fact their car’s iPod jack doesn’t work, forces the men to sing along incongruously to their only CD: Alanis Morrisette’s now-so-dated 1995 album ‘Jagged Little Pill’. Then there are the impressions: Gore Vidal and all of the James Bonds; a recurring Michael Caine-off and an exchange between the Batman’s incomprehensible Christian Bale and Tom Hardy. A mafia theme recurs with homage to The Godfather’s Al Pacino and Marlon Brando – though they never get to Sicily.
Shot in undramatic documentary style by TV cameraman James Clarke, the scenery, particularly along the Amalfi coast, manages to be stunning nevertheless. The same can’t be said for the food. Behind-the-scenes kitchen montages showing preparation and plating are lacklustre and curiously drained of colour. There’s far too much sallow-looking pasta for this to work as food porn.
Perhaps that’s intentional. The Trip to Italy accurately conveys the flatness of travel when it’s done for work and without accompanying loved ones. No matter how stunning the view, a hotel room can be lonely when no one at home is answering your calls. The film also suggests the tourist’s postmodern malaise, where no location can be appreciated for itself, instead always being experienced in reference to historical events, famous people and movie locations. La Dolce Vita, Roman Holiday, Beat the Devil, Voyage to Italy and Contempt all get a mention here.
In the UK, The Trip and The Trip to Italy are each broadcast as six-part series on the BBC. That’s probably a better way to enjoy Coogan and Brydon’s tart schtick – short bursts of comedy and pathos against interesting scenery. Packaged within a feature film, this chemistry is enjoyable enough but fleeting and insubstantial. No sequel needed.