A TRIP TO ITALY (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
“Bit of a downer, not quite sure why?”
– Steve Coogan to his son Joe 

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Throughout this film, Coogan is one big stalking sourpuss. He sulks around beautiful Italy wearing a black turtle neck, lips pursed as if he sucked on the worst lemon anyone would bite on, and he’s highly confident he doesn’t want to be a on this trip. He’s coerced in going on another restaurant tour for a review in a publication with his dear friend and co-hort Rob Brydon. This is a chance anyone in their right mind would jump at, whereas Coogan only feigns at. Coogan is a British comedian with specific talents chiefly, being sarcastic but in a zany humorous subversive smart-alecky way (see: Tropic Thunder or the lunatic in Hamlet 2.) Here we only see bits and pieces of that anticipatory humor, but not enough in which you voluntarily want to leave him at the Roman coliseum. The root of his ineptitude and unhappiness manifests to a melancholy stupor, as he, on a deeper level, tortures himself since he is no longer threatening in a sexual manner to the opposite sex. Italy, after all is the country for lovers, but what if you don’t love yourself or question if someone would even want to love you? He gets in his own way with his first world emo-problems. His teenage son, Joe, shows up later on to meet up saving Coogan, by Joe fighting off his father's self-pity osmosis where the aforementioned quote shoehorns its way in. Coogan is so forlorn that it becomes insufferable cloaking in misery over everything else in the picture.

KEYWORDS
Subtle, Capricious, Melancholy, Ornery, Overbearing, Casual, Terse, Dour, Escapist


THE GOOD
Breathtaking cinematography of Italy
Casual enjoyment in the film’s presentation
Perfect observational commentary by Coogan and Brydon at times
Smooth direction from Michael Winterbottom

THE BAD
Brydon’s celebrity imitations were unbearable
Film’s and Coogan’s slavish melancholy character subject
Film did not capture the spirit and soul of Italy
Irritability with leads worsen as the film progresses
Theme of mid-life crisis was over-indulged
Lack of zeal from the point of view of the characters experiences

WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
From IFC Films - In this 2009 sequel ‘The Trip’ comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon reunite for a new culinary road trip, retracing the steps of the Romantic poets' grand tour of Italy and indulging in some sparkling banter and impersonation-offs. The characters enjoy mouthwatering meals in gorgeous settings from Liguria to Capri. ‘The Trip to Italy’ effortlessly melds the brilliant comic interplay between Coogan and Brydon into quieter moments of self-reflection, letting audiences into their insightful ruminations on the nuances of friendship and the juggling of family and career. The result is a biting portrait of modern-day masculinity.

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
The film is somewhat of a “Mockumentary” starring British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, as fictionalized versions of themselves, having an excursion to the countryside of Italy for seven days for a food publication. Like the Fettuccine Alfredo on the plate, both heavily pepper the camera with “bits”, “shticks” and  “Impressions” from unrecognizable to pretty good to just stop already while studiously riffing on ‘Alanis Morrisette’ songs to quoting the great 18th century poet-lothario, Lord Byron himself. In the backdrop of all the proper madcapping going on, Italy is wallpapered side to side in a magnificent composition of mesmerizing latitudes and breathtaking longitudes that make you cry with delighted splendor. Italy shoots itself. It’s Italy that directs you, not the other way around; even though the Director Michael Winterbottom did an admirable job working with what was given. He captures the elegance of the countryside’s relaxed subtle environment to a patient hush. The camera distills Italy to a waking superficiality where only daydreamers can feel it. We go town to town, site to site, and ruin to ruin with both leads as they come in conflict with their ever lingering middle age, summoning their inner Lord Byron for that one last attempt of the country’s intangibility only to take for granted the visual majesty.

The film sells itself quickly as a casual enjoyment. You are on a trip with these fellows - all is fun and it’s a ride. It’s guy’s night out, but that night is for a week. It’s a way to see Italy without having to see it. Only the Travel Channel could be this good. It’s clear from the immediate that Coogan isn’t having any of this and doesn’t bother even lying to the camera about it. He doesn’t really come alive until he is in the first restaurant with Rob Brydon hopping between Christian Bale and Michael Caine impressions, as each one tries to top one another - and were hilarious. But it wouldn’t last. Brydon, with his elongated face and semi-groomed wispy hair was just as annoying as Coogan. Look, in terms of talent both men ooze it in a Mel Brooks, The Producers kind of way that treads on Vaudevillian. They both play off of each other wonderfully like a “Laurel & Laurel.” However, both increasingly annoyed me as the days went on for different reasons. First, with Brydon, at the drop of every cannoli, he was doing a forced impression that someone off camera found hilarious – some were good, some were recognizable and some needed more practice. His comedic bits added up to comic chunks that made me want to hurl in the Mediterranean Sea. He is a likable little fart of a fellow, who like Coogan is still grasping for that one last attempt to be seen as young and virile. Whether it’s the woman that arranges his boat tour, or the young unsuspecting woman that shows him to his hotel room; Brydon comes across trying too hard. You don’t know, where the thin line between character and actor lays and which one was actually trying. To the film's credit, the lines are "Robin Thicke-like" blurred. Conversely, as mention above, Coogan, is frumpy in his attitude, wants nothing to do with anything remotely baroque, and for the first time, lost in his career. He carries this axiomatic personal exile of a black cloud throughout Italy to where creatively, within the movie’s intent, is supposed to serve as a counter weight to the glorious surroundings by adding pathos in each frame’s dimension. For me, it only weighed down the delight and promise the movie billed.

The only moments of true inspiration are when Coogan and Brydon’s female assistants meet them for professional lunch/visits towards the end, you know – keeping them on schedule and updating their itinerary. The movie didn’t need a change in scenery - it needed a change in attitude, and these women provide it. They stroke the leads collective egos, give Coogan a bit of self-encouragement that would make even sex panther Lord Byron proud. There is clear mix of energy once other characters come in the picture. When both are sharing screen time with others, they are free to interact without the personal contrived middle-aged philosophical bullshit. The movie sells itself as a getaway with a little bit of comedic cheek. However it comes across as two men who know they are the old guys at the club, with no one there to buy a drink for. The salt from the margarita is caked to its last rim, forcing a last call on these guys’ masculine, self-realized, David Hasselhoffian frailties to subjugate onto any female passerby. I wanted to have fun, I wanted to have fun with them, and live vicariously through this trip but as in real life, when you travel with someone, by day three - you are ready to leave them behind like a bad thought. Again, the film’s depth was ever present and greatly believable in that both men can’t overcome their peter pan tendencies to face the next chapter in their life thereby splattering their self prescribed miseries all over Italy. In that respect, the movie won. Stylistically, though, that is not that space I wanted the movie to operate in. Yes, I try not to push my expectations upon a movie good, bad or ugly, but if you are selling something that is primary and dominant in story or presentation (as in this case vacation through Italy with two presumable amiable leads), I have a firm belief that I should hold the movie accountable for that premise. This film could have been a breeze, breathing life with zestful relish; drama is always welcomed especially in a situation like this but you can’t have it both ways. You want to contemplate your existence in beautiful Rome? Sure, but whole ass that focus, don’t half ass it. You want to have the trip of lifetime but still be judgmental in your surroundings? Do it, but you can’t hold both at equal measure - and this film didn’t. In my opinion, however, it picked the wrong petulant half. When you go on vacation, it’s your time to be present in the moment, but also omnipresent in your thoughts with an accord of self-reflection to where when you go back to reality. You are somewhat a different person or at least strive to be. This movie didn’t focus on that, it focused on staying bratty without an inch of redemption until it’s too late but by then you are already packing your bags.  

KEY SCENE
And I rest my case. Here, you get the movie in substantial nutshell. Both men look towards the ocean talking about the beauty that surrounds them but is only concerned with the young beauty in front of them. Both stand so close to the table to be noticed that it’s inflammatory, but no one at the adjacent table bears to glance their way as if to confirm they are as transparent as they believe. Both men are sad in trying to be noticed or reflecting back on harmless passing glances that meant the entire world to the younger versions of themselves. As Coogan wistfully says in a laconic sarcasm at the beginning of the clip…ah “la dolce vita.”

CONCLUSION
My argument with this movie is not of the choice in how the realism of both characters feelings is portrayed but over choice of the melancholy motif itself. The “characters” have concerns, hopes, joys and wisdoms that are self evident, but with that comes the emotionally proclivities to hammer down a wonderful, light breezy premise with a dark, underachieving, masked in self-pity detriment for two men that really aren’t doing too bad professionally or personally. This movie has wonderful scenes time to time, excellent cinematography, but its soul crushingly pathetic and whiny. I wanted an excursion with flippant but respectful commentary, not a trip with two average, but pretty well known stars or at least one well-known star and one who could do Al Pacino - that is a recipe even the great Lord Byron would want to bitchsmack the taste out for this faux culinary travel guide of misery. 
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2 out of 4

 


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