Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan are back at it again (along with their Michael Caine impersonations), this time tackling various restaurants while on a road trip around Spain. Yet when problems begin to stir at home, will the outside stress impact upon the friendship? Can Brydon learn to tolerate Coogan’s sudden rise in popularity and umpteen conversations about Judy Dench?
1 hour, 55 minutes.
August 11, 2017.
Distributor: IFC Films
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Writers: The Trip to Spain features the improvisations between Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.
Starring: Steve Coogan & Rob Brydon
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rating: Unrated. For comparative purposes, it is rated M in Australia and PG in Canada.
When comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon were first approached with the idea for The Trip, they turned it down. Six half-hour episodes filled with nothing but their exaggerated personas improvising and reviewing food, just seemed too excessive for a show that was essentially about nothing. Thankfully, they decided to give it a go, creating one of the most organic comedies in recent years. It has also unintentionally become a “funnier, less important version of Seven Up!” as Steve Coogan fondly describes it.
During the first season, the pair travel and eat their way through Northern England. The footage from The Trip, the TV show, was shortened and edited into a feature length film of the same name. It was the same story with the second season, except the duo completed a trip around Italy. For the third season, and therefore movie as well, Coogan and Brydon decide to explore the culinary delights around Spain… though by this stage we all know it’s never about the food, but rather the many (impressive) celebrity impersonations the comedians bring to the table. But does this unorthodox idea have the legs to last a third season?
Violence/Scary images: Well, Rob Brydon does pretend to swallow poisoned food in true Bond villain style! But aside from a few references and jokes about torture, there’s nothing gruesome here; only wickedly funny humor.
Language/Crude humor: Most of the major swear words are dropped (f-bomb, s-word, and the like), the majority of which are during Steve Coogan’s impersonation of Robert De Niro. There’s only a smattering of swear words throughout the rest of the film. The humor is politically incorrect at times, but it never turns crude.
Sexual content: Brydon lies topless beside his wife and embraces her, with the picture fading out before more is seen. The consequences of premarital sex are discussed. Coogan hints towards being pro-abortion at one point in the film, though it’s not directly stated.
Drug/Alcohol use: The Trip to Spain is (supposedly) about reviewing restaurants. Therefore Brydon and Coogan drink wine along with their meals. It’s never to excess, and they don’t actually critique the wine (or the food much either, really).
Spiritual content: None in a thematic sense. Many of the townships visited are steeped in Christian history, and so there’s a sentence or two of exposition for each place. Muslims and ISIS are mentioned, but the conversation doesn’t go very far.
Other negative themes: Sometimes Brydon and Coogan’s impressions turn to mockery, while their criticisms of celebrities fester into gossip.
Positive content: This movie is essentially about two friends enjoying themselves and each other’s company (and sporting a healthy rivalry along the way). It’s an honest, reflective look at middle-aged masculinity.
The Trip to Spain is a scrumptious feast with multiple belly laughs along the way. If you’re a fan of the television series or the previous films, then you will only love Brydon and Coogan’s latest outing. It’s the best so far. Being the third in the series means that the two comedians and their director, Michael Winterbottom, are no longer strangers with the show’s odd concept, and are now hitting their stride. They know what works. In The Trip, the first season and movie, everyone was still struggling to discover what exactly they were creating. The Trip to Italy suffered heavily from pacing issues, causing the film to tediously drag towards its conclusion. But The Trip to Spain delivers the aspects of the show that audiences do adore, while also taking a risk and experimenting with the subplot.
It is difficult to describe what exactly this series (and the films they are condensed into) is about, particularly for those who aren’t familiar with them. It’s like Seinfeld, though this time there are two comedians who play exaggerated versions of themselves and deal with fictional (but somewhat believable) problems related to their jobs in the entertainment industry. Rob Brydon tends to be the annoying yet down-to-earth family man, while Steve Coogan is more arrogant and seeking to further his career. All of the road trips are done under the pretense that one of the comedians needs to review the restaurants for a magazine article or for some other creative endeavor.
Yet this isn’t a sitcom. These films/series have a voyeuristic quality about them, similar to the Before Sunrise trilogy. We are like a fly on the wall watching Brydon and Coogan dine at gorgeous locales, all while they nit-pick each other like an old married couple. The conversations are improvised so everything feels incredibly naturalistic, though Michael Winterbottom still orchestrates the framework, similar to what we see in some of Richard Linklater’s work. However, the eating and the joking is just surface level entertainment; since each season is made with a number of years in between, we get to see Brydon and Coogan evolve, like the haphazard, flabby middle-aged version of Boyhood and the Seven Up! documentary series.
So yes, the vast majority of the runtime is dedicated to watching Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan consume “life-affirming butter” (or “L.A.B.” as Brydon summarizes), though what makes it particularly special is that these two comedians aren’t exactly dining by themselves. They are both masters at impersonating celebrities. During The Trip to Spain, Roger Moore, Sean Connery, Mick Jagger, John Hurt, David Bowie, Robert De Niro, and many more, all pop in for a visit! Until you watch this film, you will never know what it’s like to hear two Marlon Brando’s bicker with each other over intonation and vocal pitch. Rob Brydon’s small man trapped in a box also makes a brief appearance, sounding lost and oddly American as per usual. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, stop what you’re doing right now. YouTube ‘small man in a box.’ Warm up your jaw. Allow it to drop to the floor. His performance is as life-affirming as Spanish butter.
These hilarious impressions define the film. In the past, Coogan in particular has expressed his dislike in doing them, but it seems by the third movie they’ve both finally accepted that these short, comedic interactions are what audiences pay to see. The Trip to Spain features more impressions than the other movies before it, which contributes to the film’s rollicking pace. It’s the type of humor that rewards your investment in pop culture – cinephiles will get a kick out of all the references. Monty Python skits and Christopher Columbus: The Discovery are referred to the most; sadly Bane and Batman from The Dark Knight Rises don’t make an appearance in this film, though fans can always rewatch The Trip to Italy for those terrific moments.
Since Marvel films have dominated the cinematic landscape as of late, you’re probably wondering if you need to watch something else first for homework before you can see this. It’s a bit of a mixed bag. It’s really like Seinfeld in this aspect, where you can jump in at whatever point and simply enjoy the jokes. However, there are some longer running gags. The treatment of Michael Caine is one of them; still hilarious by itself, but it’s even funnier when you know the full context.
Though more so than the previous films, The Trip to Spain shares a lot in common with the seventh season of Seinfeld, where an ongoing story arc is created. I’m torn over this. The Trip to Spain could very well have simply offered a good time littered with jokes and pleased fans with its simplicity. But there are a number of undercurrent themes about aging and life satisfaction, and it would be intriguing to binge watch the entire trilogy to fully grasp how these two comedians have developed over the past few years, tapping into the appeal of Before Sunrise,Boyhood, and Seven Up!
Yet this is where this franchise’s proof of concept battles itself. What’s great about these films is that they are so real – it’s so easy to believe that it’s depicting true events, and getting sucked up into this fictional reality is half of the fun. But when subplots are added, the film noticeably needs to change its gears from naturalistic improvisation to constrained narrative storytelling. In doing so, it destroys the illusion that these events could be real, causing the audience to constantly wonder exactly what is true and what is manufactured.
As though Michael Winterbottom played with a CSI’s fingerprint powder, his hand in manipulating the story can be clearly seen, smudging some of the film’s natural beauty. Brydon and Coogan scream, clap, and giggle like Mick Jagger at each other in the middle of a busy restaurant, yet none of the extras in the background even glance at their ridiculous antics. The pair pass some buskers, but it’s soon apparent that they are hired actors and not genuinely singing on the street just as Brydon and Coogan walk by. There are multiple phone calls containing highly personal information, dropping more and more bombshells as the episodic week progresses, yet somehow there’s a camera on the other end as though the film crew got a heads up before the supposedly unsuspecting two male leads.
Yes, this is all just normal filmmaking, but when The Trip to Spain is trying to pass itself off as more of a documentary in its style, the traditional storytelling elements are completely jarring with the rest of the movie’s tone. It’s especially evident in the final act of the film, where Winterbottom really pushes the franchise into a place it has never traveled before. The jokes end and the subplot takes over, becoming more fanciful with each passing frame. This sudden change in direction will divide fans. For those who have been paying attention to the sneaky themes smattered throughout, the ending will make thematic sense, though it does ultimately feel unnecessary. If you’re merely there for the comedy, then this is when the film will really begin to drag.
Ultimately, The Trip to Spain maintains a lot of its successful formula, though it dares to try something different for the first time in the franchise’s history. Whether it’s a hit depends on the reasons as to why you’re invested in this series. Yet I have a feeling that most fans (and newcomers) will find the film to be fantastically funny, though it does outstay its welcome.
+ Faster pace than previous films
+ More impressions
+ Marlon Brando
+ Lovely setting and food as always
+ A sneaky peak at middle-aged life
- Experimental ending will divide fans
- Tonally disjointed
- Manipulation of the story too evident
- Don't actually review the food that often
If you liked the previous films, then there’s much to love in The Trip to Spain. It’s the best so far! Though an experimental finale that may enrich some of the themes, might feel tonally wrong for fans of the comedy.
After obtaining a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts, Juliana Purnell has enjoyed a successful acting career, working within theme parks, businesses, and on film sets. She has also taken on crew roles, both in film and theatrical productions. When Juliana isn't working, she enjoys watching movies of all genres at the cinema, writing, and playing with Samson, her pomeranian.
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