Film Review – The Trip to Italy
The Trip to Italy
In a Q&A session for The Trip to Italy (2014), Steve Coogan was asked what was done differently in this sequel compared to the first film, The Trip (2010). Coogan looked at the audience member, and in a calm and composed manner answered, “It’s the same as before, mate.”
That’s pretty much everything in a nutshell. Actor/comedians Coogan and Rob Brydon return (as exaggerated versions of themselves) with director Michael Winterbottom to once again travel the countryside sampling fine cuisine, and – to a greater extent – survive their conflicting personalities. This time, instead of riding around northern England, Coogan and Brydon make their way around different parts of Italy (Tuscany, Rome, Capri, etc.) Like before, the film is a truncated version of a six-episode season of the BBC television series. And – just like before – much of the dialogue is ad-libbed between Coogan and Brydon, with a very light story thread connecting things together.
If you liked The Trip, then chances are you will find a lot to like here. Winterbottom, Coogan, and Brydon appear not to have missed a beat. The chemistry between the two is still there, as well as their spot on impersonations. Story beats are carried over almost identically. We watch them driving in cars, sailing on boats, walking down cobblestone alleyways, sitting down eating food, and in their hotel rooms. All the while, they are constantly talking. Sometimes they discuss deep, personal issues about growing old, other times ribbing the other in friendly repartee. Winterbottom keeps the structure consistent, even adding in the same title cards marking off what day of the week we are in.
The surroundings are much more beautiful than the previous installment. The cold, mountainous regions of northern England have a wonderful and unique personality, but I would guess the places Steve and Rob go to in Italy has more of the traditional, postcard “vacation getaway” many people enjoy. Nearly every time they sit down to eat, the restaurant is placed on a high vista overlooking a picturesque seaside town. The thick jackets and warm sweaters they wore before is replaced by flip-flops, white buttoned up shirts, and sunglasses.
Let’s be honest, even though Steve and Rob go to these different eateries to write reviews, there’s very little we learn when it comes to gourmet meals. We do watch various cooks and chefs preparing dishes, but not much beyond that. Rather, the focus is on the characters themselves, how they relate to one another, and their outlook at this current point of their lives. Steve, ever the cynic, matched up against the goofy eccentricity of Rob. In a nice turn, Rob gets a chance to develop his character further, whereas in the previous film Steve took most of the spotlight. Rob initiates the trip this time, contacting Steve and urging him to travel to Italy. Rob gets his opportunity to “interact” with the locals (particularly a beautiful young blonde), and there’s a good insight into his career as a comedian. Yes, we learn more about Steve as well, the choices he’s made as a “serious” actor, and most importantly, the relationship he’s trying to rekindle with his son. But here, it is Rob who gets his turn. Combining the two films together, there’s a balance between the characters. Where most stories involving middle age men fall into slapstick comedy, the successful dynamic of Steve and Rob is done through dialogue, timing, and wit.
In an early scene, Steve and Rob have a conversation about doing things twice, and how the second time is never as good as the first. This could be interpreted as a sly, meta-reference, but that doesn’t dissipate the fact that this is a weaker film compared to the first. Even though it looks better and there’s more of an emphasis to balance the characters, the structure adheres so closely to the first outing that it leaves little wiggle room for surprise. The feeling of natural spontaneity is long gone, and in its place is scene after scene of Steve and Rob trying to capture the same old magic. The biggest points of emphasis are the impersonations. There’s no debate, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are talented mimics, but they do the exact same voices they did last time. Thankfully, their most famous impression (of Michael Caine) is touched upon very quickly, but they continue on with everyone else. After the third or fourth scene of them doing Al Pacino or Woody Allen, the act runs a little more than stale.
I’m not so sure this is a story we should visit again for a third time. If Winterbottom, Coogan, and Brydon do decide to tackle that, hopefully they add a bit more innovation to keep things fresh and unpredictable. As it stands, The Trip to Italy doesn’t differentiate itself enough from The Trip other than a change of scenery.