It took me awhile, but I finally watched Michael Winterbottom‘s 2010 road trip mockumentary The Trip the night before watching The Trip to Italy, a sequel bringing back comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing semi-fictionalized versions of themselves, for a second foodie tour, this time moving the restaurant-to-restaurant excursion from northern England to the lush landscape of Italy.
Like the first film, this originally premiered as the second season of “The Trip”, a BBC television sitcom comprised of six, 30-minute episodes, which has been edited down to a feature film clocking in at just over an hour and 45 minutes. This second stab at condensing the duo’s escapades generally flows much better than the first, but it’s also more lighthearted in many ways, though it isn’t without its share of moral quandaries. This time, instead of Coogan getting himself into questionable situations and questioning his life’s direction, it’s Brydon getting the bulk of the heavy-lifting.
Before I go too far, a little personal background… for about four years I’d been hearing how wonderful and funny The Trip was, and I have to admit the ecstatic nature of the film’s praise from critics and fans was a bit overblown, at least in its general tone and tenor. The Trip is certainly humorous, but it is no less a British comedy, very sly in its humor in that “laughing quietly to myself” kind of way rather than uproariously laughter, which is how many critics painted it to be. This, in my opinion, is to disregard the more quiet nature of its humor not to mention the drama at its core, which increased throughout the feature all the way up to its final frame where we left Coogan in his lonely flat, deciding to pass on a television role in America, not wanting to consistently be away from his children for what could be upwards of seven years.
As soon as The Trip to Italy begins, however, we learn Coogan did indeed take that role in America, but at the same time it sounds like the second-to-third season hiatus may be an extended one. We also learn that while the first trip commissioned by the Observer newspaper was accepted by Coogan, it was Brydon that did the actual work, ultimately writing the reviews and now they want him to take a second trip, this time around Italy from Liguria to Capri, sipping wine, eating pasta and exploring the local architecture and landmarks. Coogan agrees to accompany him.
With a soundtrack provided by Alanis Morissette‘s “Jagged Little Pill” album, providing more than enough moments for laughter on its own, the film is once again heavy with impersonations from Michael Caine to Al Pacino, following a similar structure to the first film, but seems to flow much better. Along the way there’s a side-story between Coogan and his son, while there appears to be tension between Brydon and his wife, tension that most definitely wasn’t there by the end of the first feature, though Brydon’s career is certainly on an uptick as he actually records an audition tape for a Michael Mann film while on the road.
In terms of the film’s general flow, I can understand editing down nearly three hours of content into an hour and 45-minute film is a difficult task, especially considering Winterbottom pretty much lets Coogan and Brydon improvise many of their lines. The task, as it were, seems to have been handled much better here or, perhaps, Winterbottom did a little more scripting than he did with the last installment, understanding where he would work moments into the film and which would be left for the television series alone.
Then again, maybe I liked it better because Coogan isn’t as much of a grump and Brydon doesn’t appear to be portraying a character simply meant to annoy him. The laughter shared between the two is far more enjoyable with only bits of cynicism peppered throughout. They’ve also dialed back the impressions, or at least it felt like they did, as Brydon was rather overbearing in the first film. His character is still clearly overcompensating for a lack of self-confidence with the amount of impressions he does, but here it felt more natural and it was more fun to see Coogan continually playing along, particularly during the Michael Caine and Roger Moore bits.
I don’t know, maybe it was the Italian landscape that generally pepped up my mood, or maybe it was the over-hyping of the first one that caused it to let me down a bit while The Trip to Italy seemed to soar. I only hope the next step is The Trip to France (or maybe Ireland or Greece) because continued tours of some of the most lush, lovely and historic places around the world with Coogan and Brydon is something I will tune in to watch whenever the duo, along with writer/director Michael Winterbottom, feel up to the task.