When English film hyphenate Michael Winterbottom decided to make a sequel to his 2011 success, “The Trip,” I don’t think he shot for originality but rather to continue a compelling discourse. Sure, like its predecessor, “The Trip to Italy” is fundamentally two blokes eating and impersonating more-successful people, but that’s like saying Kanye just does words over sounds. The film reminds us to be foolish, to be vulnerable, to be loud and to be friends. Not unlike Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha,” “Italy” makes you want what the onscreen friends so effortlessly share: fun.
The Trip to Italy
The Michigan Theater
Steve Coogan (“Philomena”) and Rob Brydon (TV’s “ Would I Lie to You?”) play themselves asked to compile restaurant reviews in the otherworldly beauty of Italy. Business as usual at the dinner table for the pair is anything but usual for the rest of humankind: one comprised of improvisational marathons, partly to distract from confessing they truly know shit about gastronomy. They, especially Brydon, seamlessly shift in and out of Michael Caine/Robert de Niro impressions like Robin Williams did — and it’s fucking money.
Like any good Western Europe vacation, the trip is not complete without sex. Not just penetrative sex, but the evolving idea of sex as a 40+ year old adult male. “They just look right through us,” Coogan says of the countless younger, prettier women they encounter. But seconds after this depressing moment, the two are back to what they deem more important than sex: emoting. As it turns out, conveniently, their theatrical synergy attracts gorgeous women along the way. Even with the foreign ladies, the film doesn’t feel like a trip at all. It feels like two goofballs unapologetically having more fun than you without seeking validation … while in Venice.
It would be dumb to call the onscreen duo a performance. That would imply concrete planning, something they dismiss entirely. Nor is their bond a “bromance” in the Judd Apatow sense. That would imply empty dialogue and drugs to crutch for said empty dialogue. Coogan and Brydon share something older, more refined, something for which all men should strive: a fully functioning, alive, stimulating adult dudeship.
Maybe your dad has it, friend’s dad, boss — an intimate dudeship teeming with opinion, drama, laughter, melancholy. There’s something unusual and unusually attractive about the Coogan-Brydon vulnerability that I think our generation of guys have effectively lost. How many guys can a guy call when he has a miserable day? Right. In brief, “Italy” is now officially required viewing for dudes whose friendships would fizzle without booze, weed or coke.
Don’t get me wrong, Italian terrain is even more jaw-dropping when set to fucking opera music, but any technical achievement (see: scenic lensing, montage-like cuts to the kitchen food preparation) doesn’t trump the mindshare of the duo’s talking. It compels you to stay abreast on pop culture, read history on Lord Byron, try improv and look deranged without caring what a stranger thinks.
Men don’t have enough films about men proactively occupying the boredom of life with life itself. Coogan and Brydon prevail across the board from fun-o-meter to romance by being confident weirdos because weirdos have brass balls for not blending in in the first place. The film dares you to explore your funny and unfunny weirdness … and have more interesting friends.