Film review: THE TRIP TO ITALY, from Built For Speed

The Trip was one of recent cinema and television’s comic highlights. Beginning as a TV show it featured comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing themselves in a semi-fictionalised scenario as they toured England’s Lake District sampling its food and culture.  The TV series and its compressed cinema version mixed foodie lifestyle show with the two leads’ wonderfully acerbic but charming comedy as they riffed on popular culture, art and poetry and impersonated stars like Michael Caine and Anthony Hopkins.  With varying success, director Michael Winterbottom also attempted to give the film some emotional weight by having the two muse on their lack of career fulfilment and the disappoints of being a middle-aged.

The sequel, The Trip to Italy, follows a similar formula with Brydon this time commissioned to write an article about up-market restaurants dotting the Italian peninsula from Piemonte to Capri.  He invites Coogan along for a journey that roughly retraces the culinary adventures of poets such as Lord Byron.   As is in the first one, the film shifts between scenes of the two ensconced in restaurants eating phenomenally tasty looking meals, joking, bickering and impersonating a gaggle of celebrities, to shots of them touring the countryside or engaging in melancholic phone calls with their loved ones back in England.

The template of this film is essentially the same as The Trip but there are some subtle differences.  While we witness the preparation of meals that will have many drooling like Pavlov’s dog, The Trip to Italy is not as much of a foodie film as the first one, there’s less emphasis on the specific contents of the dishes and the identity of the restaurants.  This is also a more cinematic film with a richer visual pallet that highlights sumptuous vistas of the Italian countryside, mountainous regions and the Amalfi coast.  This film also focuses more on Rob Brydon this time as it’s him rather than Coogan having the guilty one night stand and being offered the role in an American film.  Also, despite the more colourful sunlit setting, this is a more sombre film than the first one with moody if slightly overwhelming Mahler music, readings from Byron and Shelley and meditations on death.  The poetry and the music are wonderful in themselves but jar slightly with Coogan and Brydon’s comical riffing.

Despite some darker themes this is still a very funny film with great impersonations which include old favourites Michael Caine and Hugh Grant and new ones such Humphrey Bogart, Clint Eastwood and even Gore Vidal.  The two leads’ droll, often improvised observations and razor sharp barbs are still wonderful.   A few scenes go on a little too long, though, such as the impersonation of Tom Hardy as Bain but most are finely judged.

It’s a little too familiar in places and watching two wealthy celebrities gripe about their lives and their first world problems is at times hard to take but these two are such superb comic actors and erudite wits that this film is almost always delightful and hilarious.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Comedy.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Michael Winterbottom.

Release date: 22nd May 2014

Running time: 108 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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