A sequel to his “The Trip” from 2010, Michael Winterbottom’s “The Trip to Italy” is an example of how minimalistic comedy can be done well.
It’s a road-trip comedy, in which British actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play semi-fictionalized versions of themselves. Winterbottom keeps the focus on the mundane, comedic interactions between the two as they travel around the Italian countryside, staying in nice hotels and eating great food.
The picture is essentially a travelogue mixed with comedy. It’s a series of improvised conversations between the two actors, which gives the movie a relaxed, directionless energy.
It helps immensely that the chemistry between Brydon and Coogan is impeccable. These are real friends who have decided to go on a trip together, while someone films them with a camera.
While the movie may feel aimless and lacking in cohesion, it isn’t. As the movie goes on and the two make their way from one luxurious Italian town or fine-dining establishment to the next, there’s a sense of progression. And as silly as these comedic riffs can get — oftentimes, they turn into impression-offs between the two guys — they address a variety of important topics, ranging from history and culture, to growing old and mortality. These are intelligent and humorous dialogues. Oddly enough, the poet Lord Byron is a common topic.
At the same time, the comedic momentum stays intact. The scene where Brydon, pretending to be Michael Bublé, proceeds to fake-interview Coogan is both an amusing dialogue, as well as a chance for Coogan to genuinely reflect on his career and where it might go from here.
Various dramatic strands and conflicts are introduced throughout the movie: Coogan’s relationship with his teenage son since getting divorced from his wife, the minor disconnect between Brydon and his wife that leads to a fling between him and a random British girl, Coogan’s career dissatisfaction, Brydon being offered his first serious role in an American movie and so on. While these strands get somewhat developed, they don’t become the focal point of the movie: They’re acknowledged, but they’re also not neatly resolved by the end. The film never gets caught up in the plot conventions characteristic of comedies.
In the end, “The Trip to Italy” is what it would be like if two characters from a more traditional comedy movie decided to take a break from the action and go on a trip together.
Like its predecessor, “The Trip to Italy” is a good film, but it’s one you need to drop everything and rush out to see. These are funny, minimalistic movies, no doubt, but they’re good to watch in the comfort of your own home.