It’s incredible to think that a franchise (just for the sake of defining multiple movies) could be brewing from two small comedies that have so much more to offer than the usual out pour that comes out yearly. A personal journey into self discovery, friendships, relationships, and life can all be condensed into the four hours (in movie versions) of entertainment from the minds of Michael Winterbottom, Rob Brydon, and Steve Coogan. The Trip to Italy builds on the first movie as the focus seems to shift from where Steve is to where Rob is, but never loses touch with what makes these films so poignantly amazing.
If you haven’t seen the first movie (available on Netflix), the series follows fictionalized versions of Brydon and Coogan as they go on a trip around Northern England to review different restaurants for The Observer. Along the way, there is a host of impressions by both actors, including a spot-on Michael Caine one. As the trip persists, it dives more into Coogan’s desires to gain notoriety for his acting work outside of the comedies and his splintered relationships with women and his son. On the contrary, Brydon has structure at home with a blossoming family that Coogan can’t understand because of the lack of true art that Brydon does.
The second one picks up the guys a few years later in Italy. They have been tasked with a similar job, but this time are following the poetry paths of Shelley and Byron to find the eateries. It seems like both men are at a different point in their lives as Coogan seems more assured about his career and personal life as he is coming to the end of a run on an American television series while Brydon is beginning to get offered parts in movies, including a juicy role in an upcoming Michael Mann film.
As the first film dove into Coogan, it seems like the focus has shifted to Brydon and his problems with his marriage. While everything seemed fine in the previous movie, this time around it seems like additional children has forced some tension in between him and his wife. We spend more time with Brydon dealing with his problems while it seems like Coogan is along for the ride.
The series continues to bring humor to these contemplations on life and the impressions help. This time around, Michael Caine comes back out, but this time they do the whole crew from The Dark Knight Rises as they decide how Tom Hardy speaks as Bane. The banter between the two is entertaining as Coogan seems to get tired and harsh with Brydon while he is much more calm until Coogan pushes him over the edge with his rough attitude.
It is interesting to see the differences in these two films as they work almost like Richard Linklater’s Before series, but instead of diving into the anatomy of romantic relationships, it is more about comradery and male companionship as the friendship between Coogan and Brydon has evolved since the last time we saw them together. Last time, Coogan was constantly annoyed with Brydon and his insistent impressions as in many scenes, you can see a tired look on his face as Brydon turns into Woody Allen once again.
But this time around, you can tell that age has changed them. Coogan is more content in his life and is able to be more free and allow Brydon to goof off more than he did in the first film. Instances that would’ve annoyed him (like more impressions) in the first film seem to gloss over as Coogan will join in and compete with him many times over the course of the film.
The Trip to Italy shows that this series is something special in comedy and in film nowadays as with the recent trend to have actors look for answers in their craft, it seems like this one is more interested in finding answers in relationships among people. Both actors are able to capture this spirit and you can’t help but feel like you are journeying the countryside with them also.
The humor is smart and the time together is grand, and I hope to see these films continuing to come out for years to come.