If you’re looking for traveling companions, you couldn’t do much better than British comic actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. At turns erudite and funny, the pair have presided over a pair of cinematic voyages – The Trip (2010) and The Trip To Italy (2014) – in which they traded bon mots and celebrity impersonations over gourmet meals as they traveled across the countryside of England and Tuscany.
The pair have now reunited for a third such trip that sees them heading towards the Iberian peninsula for what should be a working holiday. Coogan plans to work on a novel while Brydon will embark on a series of restaurant reviews. Not much of a frame work for a story – these films are heavily improvised anyway – but Coogan and Brydon fill the spots in as an improvising Hope and Crosby, bouncing jokes and impressions off of each other at a rapid pace. As Coogan casually drops mentions of his work in the Academy Award-nominated film Philomena, Brydon is always quick to call him out on such humblebrags. It’s a routine perfected in the first Trip film and it continues like a well-oiled machine here. This time around, the pair downplay their dueling Michael Caine impersonations in favor of one-upping each other imitating the likes of Mick Jagger and Roger Moore. In fact, there’s one long segment where Coogan is attempting to explain to a friend about the history of the Moorish architecture of the town they are in while Brydon constantly interrupts as James Bond franchise star Roger Moore boasting that these are his family’s accomplishments. As a comedic high point, it is only rivaled by an impersonation of Monty Python’s Michael Palin in the comedy troop’s famous “Spanish Inquisition” sketch that evolves (Or is it devolves?) into the two of them trying to one up each other by imitating Godfather actor Marlon Brando performing the same bit.
There is not as much emphasis on the food the pair are sampling in this installment. Previously, the third character of these films felt like the gourmet dishes that director Michael Winterbottom’s camera would almost pornographically linger over. But here, at some point the food angle disappears entirely from the narrative. That’s fine though. The food is always the spice of the movie, an edible McGuffin if you will. Coogan and Brydon are the real entrees here and we don’t want anything distracting us from them for too long.
While the film’s story is fictional, one still can’t help but wonder how much is autobiographical. Not in a literal sense, as I am reasonably sure that the film’s ending would have at least made headlines in the trades. But perhaps there is something to their film avatars needing to go out and experience another adventure on the road. Very early in the film the two work very hard to convince themselves that being in their early 50s is really just “the sweet spot of life.” Sure, Coogan’s messy personal and professional lives and Brydon’s feelings of being overwhelmed by fatherhood are comically at the core of their desire to head out on this current trek. But they can’t very well just leave these cares behind, however, especially when they keep bringing them up to each other. This isn’t the sweet spot of their lives so much as it could very well be a last hurrah for their youth before the demands of the lives that they built for themselves push them in a different direction. These two see themselves as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza traversing across the Spanish countryside in search of adventure, tilting at the windmills of middle age. And that’s a trip we will all be taking sooner or later.