THE TRIP TO ITALY
by Amanda Nelligan
Not ten minutes into the charming confection of a film, THE TRIP TO ITALY, one of the film’s two protagonists muses, “It just feels odd to do something for a second time. It’s like second album syndrome – everyone has this amazing expressive first album and the second is a bit of a damp squib. It’s like trying to do a sequel, isn’t it – it’s never going to be as good as the first time.”
Perhaps this is an acknowledgement from writer/director Michael Winterbottom that this sequel to 2010’s THE TRIP doesn’t have quite the freshness or the spark of the original. But what it does boast is beautiful cinematography of the stunning Italian countryside, luscious shots of the meals the two men consume on their journey, and laugh-out-loud banter largely improvised by the film’s two leads – comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing fictionalized versions of themselves. THE TRIP TO ITALY is more a traveling feast for the eyes and ears than a typical narrative film, but the two leading men are engaging enough that we rarely miss the lack of story.
The premise is the same as the original film – Rob and Steve embark on a restaurant tour, this time through Italy for a series of essays they are writing for the British Observer. In the previous film, Steve Coogan was angry following a breakup. This time around his American TV series has ended and he’s concerned about connecting with his son, currently living with his ex-wife. Rob has a wife and young child at home, but his seeming devotion to them does not keep him having a one-night-stand with one of his guides. This tryst would seemingly be the start of a subplot or an interesting character dilemma, but it remains largely unexplored. We never get a sense of how the affair affects Rob and the two men barely discuss it.
The plotting is uncomplicated as well, and by the end of the film feels episodic. Rob and Steve go to Italy, drive around without detouring, eat at mostly upscale restaurants, and make the occasional stop at landmarks important to Byron and Shelley – two British ex-pat poets – who were friends and lived in Italy. Unfortunately, if the relationship between Coogan and Brydon is supposed to in any way parallel that of the late poets’ friendship, it is not made apparent in the film.
Like the original, this film is actually edited down from a six-part BBC miniseries. While the filmmakers have clearly cherry-picked the best jokes – and there are many – the resulting storyline lacks cohesion and feels, at times, choppy. And the low-key ending is rather abrupt, leaving one wanting more complications, and to have arrived at a place different from where we began.
But these criticisms don’t mean the film isn’t quite enjoyable. Like the previous film, the two men – friends and rivals, not always in that order – try to outdo one another in everything from dueling imitations (their Michael Caine impressions make a welcome return) to trying to catch the eyes of the many beautiful young things they encounter along the way. The film boasts themes such as aging and success, life and love, fidelity and family, and of course, friendship.
The Trip To Italy opens August 15th, 2014.
Distributor: IFC Films
Director/Writer: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon
Running time: 107 minutes
Release Date: August 15, 2014