Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Trip to Italy (2014) ***½

Steve: Steve Coogan
Rob: Rob Brydon
Lucy: Rosie Fellner
Emma: Claire Keelan
Joe (Steve’s Son): Timothy Leach

IFC Films presents a film written and directed by Michael Winterbottom. Running time: 108 min. Not Rated.

“The Trip To Italy” might be the most unlikely sequel of the year. It follows the 2010 movie “The Trip”, which saw British comedians Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan playing fictitious versions of themselves. When Brydon takes a job writing a food/travelogue column for a magazine visiting restaurants throughout England, he invites his friend Coogan along with him and they spend the time joking, doing impersonations, eating good food and making poor moral choices. Critics lauded the film, however, I felt it was a little uneven, couldn’t decide what it really wanted to be, and dragged a little too much to keep me interested.

Now, we get “The Trip To Italy” which sees the exact same premise, this time in Italy. While the structure and purpose are pretty much the same, it seems the filmmakers are a little more confident and relaxed this time around, resulting in a more effective movie. Once again Brydon and Coogan throw a slew of impersonations at their food presentations trying to one up each other with their impression accuracy, but that is just the hook for this movie. What works this time around are the spaces between the meals and impersonations.

Brydon has a tryst with a shipmate from one of their excursions. Coogan explores his relationship with his son (his fictitious version of a son). Once again Coogan plays himself as more of an ass than he likely is in life. Brydon just seems a little lost this time, perhaps because his character really didn’t have enough to do the first time around and now he’s faced with an adulterous rendezvous that he enters into simply because the opportunity exists.

Perhaps one of the best moments is one of the light ones. They are visiting Pompeii and Brydon improvises a conversation with the fossilized corpse of one of the victims of that tragedy. Another good moment comes in the form of a dream in which Brydon and Coogan reenact a scene from “The Godfather”. Everything seems a little more free this time around, and yet it has more apparent structure too it. The dream sequence is a good example. It comes out of nowhere, but it actually shapes their impersonations into something more than just fooling around with their voices in a conversation.

I suspect that while much of the story and dialogue are still improvised by the two main actors, writer/director Michael Winterbottom spent more time shaping their adventure this time, fleshing out their personal lives a little more fully, making it less about the two actors individually and their own relationship with each other. The first film brought into question whether Coogan really liked Brydon. This time they seem much more like good friends simply because it doesn’t try to establish any sort of friendship between them. They just are friends. It’s not something they focus on. Therefore everything else that comes out of their time together feels more natural and less like a competition between the two.  While the first film seemed like a quirky British one off, I can now see this turning into an interesting travelogue series with the two actors visiting various countries and further exploring their fictitious lives together. 

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