The Trip to ItalyThe Trip to Italy

September 26 — October 02

The Trip to Italy

Not rated; 108 minutes

Link to film's website

Fri 5:30 7:45
Sat & Sun 2:00 5:00 7:00
Mon-Thur 5:30

Unless otherwise noted, films begin on Friday and run through the next Thursday.

In 2010, director Michael Winterbottom filmed actor-comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon on a restaurant tour of Northern England, turned it into a 12-episode sitcom for the BBC, then edited the series into a feature-length theatrical film (both the television show and the movie were called The Trip).  The premise was as plotless and freeform as could be, and it allowed the actors incomparable freedom to improvise and create vivid, hilarious, and unpredictable characters—because they were characters: fictionalized versions of the actors, tweaking what their fans knew about their personas (or thought they knew about them).  The show proved a big hit worldwide: the actors’ dueling impressions of Michael Caine is an extremely popular YouTube clip, and hints at their comic genius as well as the unique, prickly bond of friendly competitiveness between “Steve” and “Rob.”  A second series was brought out, this time tracking the duo’s culinary adventures in exotic Italy—their ostensible goal is to follow in the footsteps of Romantic poets like Byron and Shelley—but like the first series, The Trip to Italy (TV show and movie) is about much more than the epicurean exploits of a couple of squabbling, insecure Brits.  Director Winterbottom, whose films include Welcome to Sarajevo and 24 Hour Party People, has a dark sense of humor and an affinity for showing the clash of often-abrasive personalities in quirky, humorous ways.  Coogan and Brydon once again make an impeccable comic team.  Fans who saw them in The Trip might be surprised to see that once again, the actors have played with viewer expectations: this time around, it’s Rob who’s aloof, sneaky, and covetous of Hollywood success; Steve is the sympathetic figure, a family man whose estranged son (played by Timothy Leach) joins them later on their tour.  What hasn’t changed from the first series is their comic timing, understated chemistry, and flair for celebrity impersonations.  But comedy is a façade for both characters, a sparkly veneer masking (not always very well) a deeper discontent that gradually gets revealed in full as they travel through Tuscany, Rome, and Capri.  Needless to say, the backdrops to their meditations on life, art, career, romance, and family are gorgeous to look at, and even provide humor as we watch these frazzled, often whiny characters vent their frustrations while beautiful deep blue oceans, glimmering white beaches, craggy mountains, exotic cityscapes, majestic villas, and lush vineyards vie for audience attention in the background.  The film is also a gourmet’s delight, showcasing beautifully hand-crafted meals that will make anyone—not just foodies—salivate with envy.  If this were nothing more than the filmed document of a terrific vacation, it would still be worth watching for the wonderful performances: the actors may be eating well, but they’re “singing” for their supper, peppering the screen with sharp wit, sly humor, irreverent impersonations, and surprisingly deep and insightful commentary on what it means to be alive.  Lane Scarberry, critic for Sound on Sight, astutely suggested Brydon and Coogan were a schizophrenic version of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in their popular “Road” movies.  It’s an apt comparison, for Hope-Crosby also had a “bite” to their relationship, an undercurrent of aggressive competition (often for Dorothy Lamour) that brought some comic tension to their films—will the two buddies stay together or will their bickering finally pull them apart for good?  Brydon and Coogan have the same kind of love-hate relationship.  The Trip was occasionally uncomfortable for how close to the bone it seemed; in The Trip to Italy, the duo is more relaxed playing off one another.  Their camaraderie is more believable.  They’re like an old married couple at this point, and it’s the give-and-take that makes this film so enjoyable to watch.  Critic Louise Keller of Urban Cinefile noted the second film’s improvement over the first: “Michael Winterbottom’s sequel takes everything up a notch… everything soars – the improvised patter, the left of field humour, the lunacy of the movie star improvisations and the combative, easy relationship between the two men.”  There’s no real story, no major character revelations, and no big life lessons—The Trip to Italy is a vacation for moviegoers as well as the leads: it’s a feast for the senses, a sumptuous experience that viewers can luxuriate in for a couple hours, listen to some great talk, have some laughs, see fantastic cuisine and breathtakingly lovely scenery, and walk out of the theater refreshed, a little dazzled, and with smiles on our faces.  The film’s a party, and Brydon and Coogan are the life of it—in the best sense of the term—and there’s just enough seriousness and weightier ideas to think about to give the film some dramatic flow.  For the most part, though, it’s very loose, non-confrontational, and relaxed; Winterbottom recognizes the value of letting a camera subject speak for itself, whether it’s a couple of funny actors, a delicious meal, or a rustic Italian village nestled in a wooded mountain slope. The Trip to Italy was a little late for summer in America, but it’s truly a great “summer” film.                 

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