All apologies to Hope and Crosby, but Coogan and Brydon are now the kings of the “Road to” movie. That’s Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, two British comic performers and writers who play fictionalized versions of themselves in this series dreamed up by director Michael Winterbottom. The premise stays the same – Steve and Rob travel together to some scenic vista and sample the country’s cuisine – as does the true purpose of these trips – to spotlight their expert impressions, their tetchy kind-of camaraderie, and a melancholy that persists like a stomach grumble.
Though The Trip to Spain is never not funny, it feels comparatively a little dramatically thin – until it fully sinks in that, just as the Before trilogy charted the evolution of a relationship, The Trip series is charting the evolution of the male ego. These films are about men getting used to the idea of getting older, and squaring how they perceive themselves with how the world sees them. Early on, Steve optimistically assesses their middle-agedness: “We are in the sweet spot.” He and Rob both have settled into something like contentment. Steve has stopped drinking – sincerely this time – and Rob seems to have found a comfortable middle between the domestic bliss of 2010’s The Trip and the scratchy, “Is this all there is?” uncertainty of 2014’s The Trip to Italy. He can’t wait to get away from his screaming kids, and he’s relieved once he gets back, which sounds about right.
And then right around the time you expect the film to be winding down, Winterbottom hits upon the tension that’s been missing. Doubling down on the Steve-as-Don-Quixote comparison, Winterbottom challenges what has been taken for granted throughout all The Trip films: the utter ease with which these men move through the world, tended to by concierges and maître d’s and personal assistants, even the sat nav. In a startling, last-reel freeze frame, the male ego pops like a balloon, and I wanted to pre-book for the next Trip right away.
Copyright © 2020 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.