Trip to Greece, TheReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 05/21/20 15:47:52
If you had come up to me ten years ago and asked me to pick the one new film that would inspire the most unexpectedly durable and artistically satisfying franchise of the ensuing decade, I am not entirely sure which one I would have picked—in an era that gave us the likes of “MacGruber,” “Marmaduke” and that Robin Hood movie with Russell Crowe, who could possibly pick just one? I am fairly certain, however, that I would not have picked Michael Winterbottom’s “The Trip” for that honor. This is not to say that I did not like the film—like many, I was delighted with the largely improvised chronicle of comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing slightly exaggerated versions of themselves, touring the finest restaurants of Northern England while engaging in a constant game of one-upmanship punctuated with astoundingly detailed impersonations of actors more famous than them. However, comedies, as a rule, don’t really lend themselves well to sequels, let alone franchises, because all the inspired jokes have pretty much been used up the first time around and there is little left to do but repeat those familiar gags. (If you saw the entire “Hangover” series, you know what I mean. And yet, Winterbottom, Coogan and Brydon would return for “The Trip to Italy” (2014) and “The Trip to Spain” and while the basic outlines for those film would not deviate from the original, that concept proved to be a durable launching point for hilarious new improvisations and impersonations while occasionally moving, however subtly, into deeper and more thoughtful waters. Now comes “The Trip to Greece,” which all involved are claiming will be the last one and indeed, there is a sense of finality that hangs out on the edges this time around, though it is likely that you will be too busy laughing to notice until it takes center stage for its surprisingly affecting conclusion.This time around, the conceit is that the two—older but not necessarily wiser—have been employed to go on a six day eating tour of Greece that is meant to retrace the path taken by Odysseus on his slightly more momentous ten-year journey. There are two possible reasons for this. One is that perhaps Winterbottom and Coogan were inspired by the beauty of Greece while filming their recent and largely misfired satire “Greed.” The other is that by having Coogan and Brydon following the path of a legendary journey, it would serve as an ironic commentary on the film itself, which, like its fellow sequels, sticks to the trail blazed by the original film. The basic building blocks that were established a decade ago are all there. We see Coogan and Brydon constantly needling each other with jibes aimed squarely at their weak spots, mostly involving Coogan’s vanity (if you don’t already know how many BAFTA awards Coogan has, you will by the end of this film) and Brydon’s jealousy over the fact that he is not quite as famous as his friend. We get a slew of impersonations that are so layered that they almost seem like possessions, ranging from dueling Marlon Brandos to team impersonations of Mick Jagger & Keith Richards and the fanciful comedy team of Stan Laurel & Tom Hardy. (Yeah, I think that the Hardy impersonation has been used before but this one is simply too funny to pass up.) There are scenes in which Coogan pensively stands by himself while struggling to get a phone signal. There is the inevitable interlude when a pretty photographer turns up to take pictures of the two and winds up in bed with Coogan. Perhaps most importantly, at least for some, are the interludes in which their gourmet meals are prepared and consumed with such gusto that you will definitely need to make plans to eat after watching it.
While the concept of following the path forged by Odysseus as he struggled to get home is not hammered too heavily (though the appearance of a trio of sirens is perhaps inevitable), there is more of a sense that this excursion is more of a journey than a trip as both men are preoccupied with things other than zinging each other. Family man Brydon once again yearns for his wife and child and clearly longs to be back with them instead of out on the road again. As for Coogan, he gets word early on in the trip from his son that his father has taken ill and he periodically calls in for updates on his condition. Meanwhile, both men are older now and beginning to feel it, both physically (most notably in an aborted swimming competition) and emotionally. (Even they cannot quite believe that they have been doing these trips for ten years now.) These elements form a sturdy dramatic backdrop for the hilarity at the forefront and form the basis for the moving final sequence.This touch of melancholy does separate “The Trip to Greece” from its predecessors but it does not take away from the array of big laughs on display throughout, from the two guys doing their takes on Dustin Hoffman to alternately singing and deconstructing the theme song from “Chariots of Fire” to Brydon taking Coogan down a peg by telling him “You look better older. You were unpalatable as a young man.” Although there is a sense of finality here that the previous films did not have, I don’t know if this will truly mark the end of the series or not—there seem to be plenty of locations where Winterbottom could set things up and my guess is that Coogan and Brydon will not be running out of material to use against each other anytime soon. If this does happen to be it, then at least we can be comforted by the fact that the most unexpected and unexpectedly delightful film franchise since the “Before” saga has gone out on the highest of notes.
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