Following their 2011 film The Trip, Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and Michael Winterbottom reunite again for The Trip to Italy, which follows the same format as its predecessor, only playing with a few slight twists. The two actors get together for a road trip under the pretense that The Observer will publish their musings on fine dining, wine and spectacular high-end hotels. The difference this time is that the actors are supposed to be following in the footsteps of Byron and Shelley. They even bring books with them to inform the experience, which, reflective of the last trip, of course, leads to more than one poetry-out-loud smack-down between the two.
So what if there’s a familiarity to the formula with only small differences in circumstances? If you enjoyed the last trip, this will do just as well. This time, as opposed to the English countryside, the pair sets off to Italy. Brydon contacts Coogan and argues that the first iteration of the report was a success, and The Observer is now footing the bill for them to visit Rome, Liguria, Capri and more. The relationship between the actors is one of friendly rivalry. Like siblings — in another recurring theme — they invest in competition driven by ego, as when they compete for the best impersonation of Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Christian Bale, Tom Hardy (my favorite) and so many others.
The Trip to Italy is the prolific Winterbottom’s first sequel, and it would precede a director like him, who has dabbled in a variety of genres, to call attention to the notion of the sequel within the film. Early on, both Coogan and Brydon comment on how awkward sequels can be, so caveat emptor. Brydon and Coogan once again play exaggerated versions of themselves in a style recalling “Curb Your Enthusiasm” by Larry David. The Trip to Italy, however, is definitely British in its style of humor. Their banter, though incredibly funny, has slowed down from the previous installment of The Trip. Here, a calmer Coogan settles into himself and — to the extent that is possible — also laughs at himself. The change feels real, it comes after the actor appeared and co-wrote the screenplay for last year’s Philomena, which was a departure from the comedic work that made Coogan famous.
Against vistas of an idyllic countryside in Italy that almost resemble landscape paintings, Coogan and Brydon discuss the important things in life, like Alanis Morrissette’s Jagged Little Pill, a CD which Brydon attributes ownership to his wife, yet they sing along to it during one of the funnier chats about their own relationships with women. Despite the rivalry, the tone in this sequel seems to be more caring about relationships. In one of the twists of The Trip‘s formula that both calls attention to itself while also playing with reinvention, this time it is Brydon who undergoes some sort of personal crisis, casting doubts on his own abilities while gallivanting around Italy. He says early in the film that he is perceived by the British audience as affable, but he is not as affable as his public persona, so he can let loose in Italy — and does he ever … as he will come to regret.
Beyond the laughs, The Trip to Italy is about a inner journey of life and accepting the ups and downs may not always be easily done. This consideration comes via a more profound Coogan, who is working to come to terms with mortality and searching for a deeper meaning to his life. He bonds with his son and apologizes to a woman he had a one-night stand with in the previous film — huge strides for someone who was portrayed as a narcissist in the previous film. As with any journey, the sequel shows that there are ups and downs and everything in between.
The film is thoroughly enjoyable, especially for those who appreciate British humor and are avid consumers of popular culture. If you go, make sure you get some snacks or have a dinner appointment right after the film. Winterbottom inter-cuts the conversations with positively hunger-inducing cooking, prepping and plating shots from the kitchens that will have you craving pasta for days!
The Trip to Italy runs 108 minutes and is rated R (the banter and subject matter can get adult). It opens in South Florida in the following theaters on Sept. 12: O Cinema Miami Shores, Movies of Lake Worth, Movies of Delray 5, Living Room Cinema 4 in Boca Raton. It also opens on Sept. 19 at the Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables. If you live outside of Florida please check here for local listings. It’s also available via VOD. IFC Films provided a DVD screener for the purpose of this review.
Update: The film will open at Cinema Paradiso Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, Oct. 29. For more information and tickets visit this link.