If you’re a regular reader of this blog you know that Box Office Insider seldom, if ever, does movie reviews. There are far too many other sites a moviegoer can consult for far more in depth and insightful analysis of the merits of whatever movie is opening on a particular Friday, told far more brilliantly than yours truly could. But every so often a little movie comes out that we pray doesn’t get lost amid the clutter and clatter of the multitude of new releases each week. Submitted for your approval is IFC’s “The Trip To Italy”.
The film reunites co-stars and real life mates Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon for the sequel to the 2010 horrifically underappreciated “The Trip”. That film followed the two around England’s Lake District as Coogan prepares restaurant reviews for The Observer Sunday newspaper. This time out the pair head to the land of “Roman Holiday” and “La Dolce Vita” for six days in six different cities and a multitude of gastronomic delights and Michael Caine impersonations. Coogan is the snarky, insecure and somewhat sullen “movie star” whose IMDB filmography is more 1995 than 2014 and Brydon is the second banana of the pair, who describes himself in one scene as “loveable, affable, affable, very affable”.
There’s subtle hilarity at every turn of their Mini, such as Brydon wondering how one of the Pompeii figures lava’d in time managed to get into the glass display box just prior to Mount Vesuvius erupting (“maybe he was like David Blaine”), him asking Coogan where he stands on Michael Buble (“I don’t know. On his windpipe?” comes the retort) and the two nitwits perilously attempting to navigate through the majestic countryside of Tuscany and the congested streets of Naples after evidently opting against the GPS at the car hire office. The impersonations come fast and furious (I lost count when it reached 17)…Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, an uproarious Tom Hardy, Hugh Grant, Gore Vidal (now there’s one you don’t hear every day), Tom Jones, a spot-on Roger Moore and even Sylvester The Cat (don’t ask). Oh and then there’s the food. Just a warning, you’ll gain six pounds by the second reel. Everything from pasta to peppers, ravioli to ragu alla bolognese, capellini to kumquats (trust me, you’ll never hear the word “kumquat” again without smirking).
But what’s truly the most satisfying aspect of the film is the underlying sadness that each of the characters brings to the movie. Sure, the food is sinful to even watch on screen and the views are absolutely breathtaking but there’s a depth that director Michael Winterbottom evokes from each character that wasn’t present in the original. Both men are aging and struggling. Coogan, whose young girlfriend from the first outing is apparently a distant memory, battles growing older, attempting to forge a relationship with his teenage son from a failed marriage and an unspoken loneliness, which comes out ever so briefly in a surprisingly touching stop in Pompeii and Brydon who must balance a young family, a career that is resigned to voice-overs and TV panel shows and a sudden struggle with infidelity. These emotional aspects of the film enable the viewer to relate far more intimately than simply two not-so-well-known-in-this-country actor/comics roaming the English countryside trying to out-Sean-Connery each other in “The Trip”. The two quote Byron and Shelley, wax poetically about packing it all in and retiring somewhere along the Amalfi Coast and gloriously butcher Alanis Morissette songs. It makes them vulnerable and, above all, it makes them relatable. They aren’t movie stars. They are us.
Granted, I may not be penciling this onto my Oscar ballot come this winter but, simply put, it is the most enjoyable movie of 2014 to date. The film never insults its audience and delivers 108 minutes of pure unadulterated pleasure. And in a year of movies so devoid of that trait we should celebrate such shining examples as “The Trip To Italy”. Eccezionale!