Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: The Trip to Italy

by Adam Riske
I’m a little stunned.

While on the surface a perfectly entertaining, fun and light romp through Italy, The Trip to Italy sneakily works in a sad undercurrent that makes the movie resonate greater than before. I am a huge fan of the original The Trip, but writer-director Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Italy is even more of an achievement (although the first one is funnier, despite the sequel being extremely funny in its own right). The Trip to Italy is one of my favorite movies of the year so far.

The movie feels comparable to taking a regal vacation with your funniest friends. The photography is stunning and gorgeous; the classical score (when used) is stirring and the location work is second to none. JB has mentioned that Mama Mia! felt to him like a mini vacation, and that matches how I felt about The Trip to Italy. If nothing else, the movie is worth recommending for how nice and relaxing it can be. It’s the version made in heaven of the vacation movies Adam Sandler and his buddies are making in hell.
The plot in brief: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon reunite for a new culinary assignment, touring Italy and visiting some rather appetizing-looking restaurants while bantering and partaking in the usual impersonation face-offs with each other. The subjects vary from the worth of sequels (a subject I am growing tired of being waxed poetic in movies -- enough already) to the virtues of Alanis Morissette’s great 1995 album Jagged Little Pill, which, in fact, this movie had me rushing to re-visit.

The Trip to Italy made me smirk for the bulk of its running time which is rare. There are more chuckles than big laughs, but that is often the mark of something else entirely. Actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are so funny and witty that it makes me feel competitive. I used to do comedy on stage and that competitive gene can’t help but come out whenever you see a comedic performer at the top of their game. It makes me mad that I’ll never be as funny or witty as these two no matter how hard I tried. They’re talking about romantic poets, while my contributions usually rest on which order the Ninja Turtles would have lost their virginity. Both are of value, but one is more high-brow is what I’m saying. I want to spend time with these guys, and that’s crucial to a comedy team whether it’s Hope and Crosby, Wayne and Garth, Abbott and Costello or Beavis and Butthead. I could listen to Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan talk about anything.
Coogan and Brydon are so good (they seem to enjoy each other’s company in the sequel more than in the original) that they even get anticipatory laughs out of me. For example, in a scene early in The Trip to Italy, the two mimic actors from The Dark Knight Rises, including Michael Caine and Christian Bale. It’s hilarious, but when they mention the name “Tom Hardy” I started laughing before they even launched into their Bane impressions because I knew these guys would deliver something inspired. Another great moment is when they visit Pompeii and Brydon uses it as his opportunity to break out his “small man in a box” routine. It’s so great. The whole movie is similar to that -- it’s silly but not stupid, and that’s a blessing in comedy.

I mentioned a sad undercurrent which I won’t get into here due to spoilers, but I truly marveled at the movie’s ability to meld a conversation about the endings of Roman Holiday and Notting Hill into something of such significance and deeper meaning. There’s a key speech at the beginning of the movie about affability, and while it seems throwaway in context it could be the thesis statement of the movie itself. Great work there by the filmmakers and the actors. This light comedy gives viewers a character study/arc that will just break your heart. Comedies sometimes work better than dramas in terms of encapsulating life and issues and providing empathy for its characters. I think that is the great strength of the Trip movies -- that and dueling Michael Caine impressions, of course (although my favorite impressions from The Trip to Italy have to be the ones of Anthony Hopkins and Dustin Hoffman).
I hope this series continues. At its current rate, it rivals Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise series, with the Trip movies focused not on romance but instead on male friendship and camaraderie. I admire The Trip and The Trip to Italy more than most comedies I’ve seen in years and you should be rushing out to see these movies if you have not already. They are great. I can watch them an indefinite number of times because they improve with familiarity.

The Trip is available on many platforms including Netflix Instant; you can find The Trip to Italy in theaters, via cable VOD and on iTunes. 


  1. Nice job Adam - you've succeeded not only in making me want to see this, but in making me feel foolish for my casual disregard of both of these movies! I'll definitely give em a watch soon.

    Also - don't sell yourself short - you're hilarious! Of brows both low and high!

    1. Cool! Let us know what you think after you see them.

  2. Love it. Great review. Once more people have seen it id like to discuss the themes and ideas one day.

    Ps the right answer is Splinter

    1. Yes! I'm dying to talk about The Trip to Italy on a more than surface level. It was hard to write this review because what I respect so much about it is very spoilery.

    2. You have completly convinced me to buy the two movies Adam!

    3. Sweet! Let me know what you think after you see them.

  3. Really great review. I saw both in a series format, six half hour blocks, but I have always loved the Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, you summed it up perfectly. I could listen those two doing Michael Cain impersonations for hours.