Over the course of two movies (or two television series that were edited down to movie form), The Trip and The Trip to Italy, comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have endeared audiences with their travels to fine dining establishments and their competitive impersonations of various icons of stage and screen. These conflicting personalities bounce off one another with affable ease, and the escalating attempts to outdo each other with their take on Michael Caine have made The Trip movies some of the warmest, most delightful pieces of cinema to come along in some time. Personally, I’ve found The Trip and The Trip to Italy to be a form of cinematic comfort food, a charming and breezy journey through food and culture that I love to revisit in moments where I’m feeling down. Now Coogan and Brydon are back in The Trip to Spain, which reunites them with director Michael Winterbottom and retains all of the charms of its predecessors. The Trip to Spain is like going abroad with two old, funny friends. My only hope is that this series doesn’t conclude at a trilogy as I would eagerly follow this duo to the far reaches of the world.
The Trip movies have always placed its fictionalized version of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon at a professional and personal crossroads and The Trip to Spain is no different. Coogan is riding a high from his Oscar nominations for Philomena, and using the clout gained from that movie to get another project off the ground. In his personal life, the writer-actor is longing to revive a relationship with Mischa (Margo Stilley), a New Yorker whom he had an affair with in the first film. Brydon, meanwhile, is settling into a life of fatherhood and his appearance in The Huntsman: Winter’s War has got his career with a bit of forward momentum. Once again, these two unite to travel in order to review the restaurants and explore the local flavor. Rob Brydon will be handling the restaurant reviews while Steve Coogan has his sights set on writing a book about his travels in Spain during his youth in the mold of Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning.
One of the themes that the two personalities confront on their trip through the Spanish countryside is their advancing age, with the two musing humorously about hitting their prime within their 50s. Both men look at their lives with older eyes, reflecting on their roles as fathers and men of the world. They discuss their ages in comparison with that of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, who wrote is classical tome around the same age as the two leads. Like Byron and Shelly in The Trip to Italy, Cervantes provides The Trip to Spain with an aspect of its literary influence that envelops their surroundings. Other pieces of literature and culture that guides their conversations is George Orwell’s time in the Spanish Civil War and the Spanish Inquisition (both the historical event and the Monty Python sketch).
As we’ve come to expect from each installment in The Trip series, Brydon and Coogan shine brightest when bringing forth their impeccable impersonations. Of course, Michael Caine gets his moment as the subject of their dueling mimicry. The real impersonation that steals the show is when Steve Coogan brings forth his wildly entertaining take on the Rolling Stones’ frontman Mick Jagger. Coogan pouts his lips and does an amusing double clap as takes on the persona of the legendary rocker. The gag goes into a second gear later in the film when Coogan suddenly posits the hypothetical moment of Jagger starring in a Shakespeare production. The comedic duo also take on versions of Anthony Hopkins, Marlon Brando, and Roger Moore in what are consistently hilarious moments that have come to define The Trip series.
For a majority of its running time, The Trip to Spain is about as good as it gets. The scenery is gorgeous. The conversation witty and hilarious. Then the movie takes quite the unusual turn. It’s a real head-scratcher. Coogan and Brydon part ways, as they have in prior installments, but the film continues on despite the fact that it has separated its central duo. All momentum from the film is sapped when the pair splits. Then it features one of the strangest, most jarring endings of a movie of recent memory. I won’t delve into the spoilerish aspects of the conclusion, but it’s an ending that falls flat, leaving you to ponder just what in the hell was going on and who in the world thought that this was a fitting conclusion. However, the film has built up so much goodwill that it’s just one baffling decision in an otherwise delightful and charming movie.
Despite its late troubles, The Trip to Spain is among one of the year’s most enjoyable comedies. Over the course of this trilogy you really get the sense that you’re just a silent third party at the table enjoying the battle of wits unfolding before you. The Trip to Spain is as pleasurable as its predecessors with its mixture of comic absurdity and emotional sincerity. This is such a rare series in its ability to basically repeat its premise without ever growing the least bit tiresome. At this point I believe there can be a Trip for every nation on this grand planet, but barring that I’d settle for every country in Europe. Make it happen, Messrs. Coogan, Brydon, and Winterbottom.