Coogan’s revenge: The Trip to Italy (Michael Winterbottom, 2014)

triptoitaly

Five minutes into this followup to 2010’s The Trip, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are discussing the merits of sequels. This conversation turns out to be not just a typical Winterbottom post-modernism,  but also a shifting of blame. Of course you’re not going to like this as much as the original. What did you really expect? The Godfather Part II?

This miniseries-turned-film follows the same formula as the first: Coogan and Brydon (playing versions of themselves) drive through some beautiful scenery and periodically eat beautiful food. They jab at each other’s weak spots, engage in ever deteriorating and escalating bouts of impersonations, and occasionally overcome (or compensate for) their petty natures by connecting with art and history.

If there’s a significant change from the first film, it’s that Coogan doesn’t come across as so sad and lonely here. The Trip ended with him alone in his London apartment while Brydon, seemingly the less successful man, returned home to his wife and child. This one ends with Coogan spending time with his son and planning their future, while Brydon ponders whether or not to continue the adulterous relationship he’s started. Brydon is now the one who’s aiming for a part in an American film, but he also seems far more mean-spirited and insecure.

For the most part, The Trip to Italy is bland and unexceptional. The recurring Alanais Morrisette songs during driving scenes don’t lead to any good jokes, which is a big problem if you’re not a fan of her music. There’s no sense of increasing tension between Coogan and Brydon, and the abrupt ending is emblematic of the film’s lack of direction.

Great comedic bits are few and far between, though they are notable. The impressions are nowhere near as funny this time around, but a slip up during Coogan and Brydon’s inevitable approximations of Michael Caine does lead to laughs (perhaps because it feels accidental). Another moment fits into the character developments of the film: while regarding an encased Pompeii victim, Brydon self-aggrandisingly launches into his small man in a box routine, and Coogan walks away in disgust. Our exasperation at Brydon pays off; Coogan’s expression when he returns and realises that Brydon is still going, without an audience, is priceless.

Any potential for a sequel to The Trip lay in making use of the real life changes in Coogan and Brydon’s careers. Coogan had two successes in 2013, making a return as Alan Partridge (a role he seemed tired of in The Trip) and also producing, writing, and starring in the Oscar-nominated Philomena. Incorporating this into the film could have expanded the ruminations on self-worth and true achievement seen in The Trip. The Trip to Italy does tip our opinions of Brydon on their head, but doesn’t work hard enough at making this much more than an uncomfortable surprise.

The original Trip miniseries was superior to the film, and yet the film still felt stuffed with excellent jokes. That’s not the case here. Anyone new to the sequel would have to be better off trying the miniseries version, because the film is scarcely worth the time.

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