This is Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s second collaboration on a humorous series of tv shows, The Trip, where two actors travel to scenic spots in order to write up the local cuisine. At the end of the season, Michael Winterbottom collects the shows into a movie. In 2010, it was simply called The Trip. This year’s offering is Road Trip to Italy.
Steve Coogan has many talents. He not only played one of the leading parts in Philomena but also wrote and produced it. (The reason I am not mentioning his long running show, Alan Partridge, in which he plays a fatuous tv show host) is that I haven’t seen it, but I have always meant to.) I first became aware of Coogan in A Cock and Bull Story, a film adaptation of Tristram Shandy (2005) directed by Michael Winterbottom, also featuring Rob Brydon in a role (where he plays himself )opposite Coogan (who plays himself) while they both spar with each other about whose part is more important. Brydon is the more gifted mimic as he performs imitations, but the two of them have a bit of a rivalry with regard to their second rung-status in the United States and how they are vying for film roles there. Road Trip to Italy is a funny comedy with moments of extreme melancholy and soulfulness, mostly due to the extensive quotations and references to Byron and Shelley. The many shots of graveyards remind us that we are not just going through life to laugh.
Besides riffing on themes of great English literature (in 2010 it was Wordsworth and Coleridge, this time expatriates Shelley and Byron), both movies depend on the reliability of the buddy movie conventions (they love each other, they hate each other, they sleep with women, sometimes not their wives), the luscious food shots, the gorgeous landscape. It is a winning combination and I hope that they (Winterbottom, Brydon and Coogan) make many more. Why shouldn’t the fiction that the Observer is paying for two British actors to visit four star restaurants and then write about them be convincing? Where will they go next? Paris? Scandinavia?
Please let them roam everywhere as long as they can continue to do hilarious impersonations of American actors such as Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, and Woody Allen, and their favorite Brit, Michael Caine. Caine is, like them, not with a plummy BBC accent, but from more humble origins with a Cockney accent. They are all good company.