' ' Cinema Romantico: Trip to Italy

Monday, September 15, 2014

Trip to Italy

“Trip to Italy” is centered around two British actors, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing themselves. They are purported to be cavorting in the south of Europe as a means to chronicle food and culture for some sort of vaguely defined magazine article, but really the film is just an extended riff between two comedians. It's like a jam band that focuses on celebrity impressions in the midst of recording an 80 minute Live In Italy LP with a second side comprised entirely of “Impersonating Michael Caine In ‘The Dark Knight Rises.’” And if Coogan is the bassist, keeping the band grounded, then Rob Brydon is the lead guitarist who will not stop noodling, forever launching into another never-ending solo.

The film is helmed by Michael Winterbottom, who also helmed its predecessor, “The Trip”, which I have not seen, though by all accounts this follow-up is a virtual redux. As such, it more or less opens with the two actors referencing the difficulties of crafting a sequel that feels fresh rather than a mere retread and so the duo naturally launches into dueling “Godfather” impressions which is pretty much precisely what Jamie Kennedy did in “Scream 2” and so, frankly, this very scene attempting to cut off the retread accusations at the pass feels like a retread.

At least all the improvisational indulging befits all the gastronomy indulging, the endless meals with the ceaseless courses, the incredibly shimmering scenery that serves a decadent reminder as to why films belong on the biggest screen, visiting the haunts of English poets Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, and engaging in immensely pleasurable Alanis Morrisette sing-alongs that somehow skirt that middle ground between Ironic and Earnest. Still, there is an undertow of melancholy, specifically in romantic entanglements brilliantly presented with a flippancy reminiscent of a quote from Jennifer Grey playing Jennifer Grey on the long-since shuttered ABC sitcom “It’s Like, You Know” when she explained she’d had an affair with her co-star in Italy(!) “because we were on location and that’s what you do.” And it seems that culinary and culture voyages to Italy can’t help but include a little side helping of adultery.

That, however, is about as far as “Trip to Italy” wants to push it. If guilt is meant to impress itself upon Brydon for his choices, it is nigh impossible to feel its weight in the face of another bottle of Barolo and whimsical references to “La Dolce Vita.” Oh, there are career quibbles, like Brydon trying to land a role in a Michael Mann movie, and the film tries to draw parallels between the bombardment of impersonations and the idea that this is where he and Coogan's bread is sadly buttered, in having to assume other personas rather than their own, and that to be a comedian means trafficking in something not necessarily, shall we say, artistically high-minded. But this is all tangential, touched upon but not addressed, an attempt to infuse a series of sitting on picturesque terraces with some semblance of meaning. It is, to quote another comic, mere heavyosity.

This is a film about the funny. And it’s not that I failed to find the film funny because I did. It can be droll, it can be side-splitting. Coogan’s facial expressions, per usual, are a phenomenon, and I even enjoyed a good percentage of Brydon’s impersonations – his Pacino in particular. But. It wasn’t a lack of funny that bothered me, it was the full-frontal assault of funny, the pounding into submission with impersonations. Brydon has no off switch. Even in the most delicate of moments, he’s trotting out a Hugh Grant or a Dustin Hoffman. I felt like his poor wife, back home, talking to him via telephone and not having it when he lapses into yet another voice. “No Dustin Hoffman tonight,” she says. Sing it, sister!

You could attempt to mount an argument that this is precisely the point, that Brydon’s having no off switch is what tinges “Trip to Italy” with tragedy. Unfortunately, by the time the notably pensive (and photogenically luminous) end arrives, I had already mentally checked out from exhaustion. You can't play an hour and forty-five minute guitar solo and then try to deliver profundity in the outro. I had long since stopped listening. I just wanted the show to be over so I could go home.


Alex Withrow said...

I get where you're coming from here. Is too much... too much? Would an off switch have been beneficial at times? I actually watched the three hour version of this, and that was far too much, even for me (someone who loved The Trip). I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the first one. The dynamic between Brydon and Coogan was essentially reversed in Italy, which was interesting.

Nick Prigge said...

"The dynamic between Brydon and Coogan was essentially reversed in Italy." That kind of makes me curious to see it. Like maybe it wasn't a Brydon issue so much as a filmmaking issue.