Film Review – The Trip to Greece
The Trip to Greece
Who would’ve thought that a story about two middle aged friends going on a food tour around beautiful European locations would spawn a franchise? And yet here we are, returning again to watch Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan play fictional versions of themselves, bickering and debating and tossing hilarious impressions at each other in The Trip to Greece (2020). Following The Trip (2010), The Trip to Italy (2014), and The Trip to Spain (2017), this latest adventure has Brydon and Coogan following the famous journey of Odysseus, eating high class food and taking in the sights along the way.
At this point, the formula for this story is well established. The narrative structure takes an episodic approach, following Coogan and Brydon as they visit a number of local restaurants and eateries. It’s explained that Coogan was assigned to write reviews of these establishments with Brydon tagging along as company, but we never really see them talk about the food nor do we see Coogan ever sit down to write. Instead, we have a number of exchanges where they talk about anything – from Greek history, to philosophy, to Coogan’s BAFTA awards to the music of Grease (1978). One of the classic moments from the first film had Brydon and Coogan comparing Michael Caine impressions. There’s no shortage of impressions here, from Marlon Brando to Dustin Hoffman, all done with their usual wit and comedic timing.
Each installment has closely stuck to this formula. There are bits and pieces of a larger personal story for both leads, but director Michael Winterbottom has always kept these relegated to small phone calls or video conversations – cutting them off a hair early before we become emotionally attached. The majority of the runtime features Coogan and Brydon’s comedic back and forth. Given that we are now four entries deep, you’re either already on board with this style or you’re not.
My relationship with The Trip films has been one of gradual diminishing returns. That’s not to say that each entry doesn’t have their merits. Brydon and Coogan seem like two fellows that I would enjoy having a conversation with over a glass of wine and a nice plate of food. But where the first film – being a truncated version of a miniseries – felt like a complete story with engaging character arcs, each following sequel felt like a variation of the same theme. There’s even a sly reference where the two talk about the pros and cons of originality or sticking to the same old routine. The character development slowly takes a backseat to the lavish locales. The first film was a small road trip through the English countryside, now we’re visiting seaside restaurants with exquisite outdoor décor set against exotic backdrops. The series started to feel more like travelogues advertising tourist destinations.
I gather that Winterbottom, Brydon, and Coogan sensed this stagnancy, which is why there is a larger melancholy pervading this latest effort. Part of this involves a crisis within Coogan’s fictional family. What starts off as a small issue increases to the point that it dominates the latter half, informing Coogan and Brydon’s actions. This is probably the first – or at least the biggest example of – a narrative device making its presence known. Just like with other instances of outside forces peeking in, Winterbottom chooses to cut away early. Theoretically, this is the right choice – The Trip films have never really been about high dramatic tension. But narratively, it leaves us hanging. I appreciate storylines being left to ambiguous fates, but I also believe that they should come to logical and satisfying conclusions. What Winterbottom does is basically leave on a cliffhanger.
I’ve read reviews comparing this series to that of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. The two do feature a pair of characters coming together in different parts of the world and revealing much about themselves through conversations, but that’s where the comparisons end. Where the Before trilogy spent nearly a decade between each installment to allow the characters to grow, Coogan and Brydon have now met four times within ten years. That’s not much time for them to change through life experience. This has almost been a bi-yearly getaway, an anniversary celebrating a relationship without the romance. And for as entertaining as they are together, we don’t really get a better insight into their lives as they brush off their Al Pacino voices.
Out of the sequels, The Trip to Greece is probably the best one. It finally aims to be something bigger than just two guys chitchatting and eating food most of us couldn’t afford. If this is not the last time we see them (there have been rumors that this might be the final chapter), I hope that future entries will build off of what was established here. Developed stories aren’t a bad thing, and if done well could spark some creative inspiration. I’m all for Coogan and Brydon stepping away from the fancy restaurants and really digging into their on-screen personas. Will that actually happen? We’ll just have to wait and see.