Seven years ago, a show called The Trip premiered on the BBC, about two men traveling around and doing impressions while reviewing restaurants. The premise sounded ridiculous – how interesting could watching two men sit and eat be? Well, seven years later, The Trip has had three successful seasons, which have been edited down into three movies. In the latest The Trip to Spain, a freeform comedy that dabbles in profundity, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon continue to be undeniably and implausibly pleasant to watch.
The premise is, essentially, exactly the same as the two earlier film The Trip, and The Trip to Italy. Except in this one, Coogan and Brydon go to Spain. The Trip movies are traditionally light on plot, heavy on personality. The series has subsisted on the strength of their relationship, and director Michael Winterbottom does an excellent job of subtly peeling back the layers on the friendship. Coogan and Brydon serve as apt comedic foils for one another, playing off-center versions of themselves. Coogan, still delighting in his glory of his Oscar nomination for Philomena enjoys rubbing his Hollywood cred in Rob’s face. When arranging the vacation, he says to him, “I’ll have my people call, well, call you.” Coogan is a man with people. Brydon is a man with a family. It’s a distinction not lost on either of them, especially as Coogan discovers he doesn’t exactly have the juice he thought he did.
The vast majority of the film is comprised of rambling conversation, usually over lavish meals. It’s worth noting that The Trip to Spain, like the two previous films, has no credited writer. The film is almost entirely ad-libbed which makes Coogan’s and Brydon’s seamless riffing all the more entertaining and fun to watch. Whether it’s Steve critiquing Rob’s John Hurt impression, or Rob chiding Steve for endlessly referencing Philomena, the two maintain an effortlessly electric repartee. What’s even more impressive is the number of thematic elements that work their way through the scriptless film.
Aging is a central theme to The Trip to Spain, with both men entering their fifties. Steve has entered into an extramarital affair with a younger woman named Emma, played by Claire Keelen, and Rob has become concerned that he’ll be too old when his youngest child grows up. The film also has an interest in investigating the difference between academic knowledge, and actual learned wisdom. Rob memorizes facts from guidebooks and attempts to pass them off as things he’s picked up along the way. Steve is continually irritated by people who know more about the things that he thinks himself an authority on.
But, primarily, The Trip to Spain is concerned with the friendship between Coogan and Brydon, and derives its value less from its loose thematic arcs and more from the individual exchanges between the two.
The Trip to Spain is, at times, sidesplittingly funny and it’s a delight to watch the two of them prattle on incessantly. Michael Winterbottom has built a series that seems to defy gravity. Surprisingly poignant, often hilarious, and always charming, the film is just a lot of fun to watch.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
The Trip to Spain could have, and indeed should have, felt like just more of the same. But in this third entry, you can see Coogan and Brydon’s relationship begin to evolve and gain perspective on itself, turning itself into sort of bottomless comedic well. It might not be the funniest trip, but it might be the most rewarding one yet. I certainly hope this isn’t their last.