REVIEW: ‘The Trip to Spain’ is a hilarious, though familiar, Coogan/Brydon getaway
The age-old wisdom is that travelling is one of the best ways to expand your mind, giving you experiences that can’t be had elsewhere. But as any traveller will remind you, it’s easy to bring your bad habits with you on a journey. Perhaps that’s one of the keener observations in The Trip to Spain, the new theatrical cut of the TV series starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. No matter how much the fictional versions of the two comics learn about themselves in these stories, there’s always a new country to explore and play host to their middle-aged foibles.
To be honest, I never expected the Trip movies to reach a third film. While director Michael Winterbottom proved in the last film that he had an uncommon talent for making a satisfying comedy sequel, The Trip to Italy doesn’t immediately call out for a follow up. Maybe that’s because one of the core themes of the series - how its leads wrestle with getting older - had been explored fairly thoroughly. Both Coogan and Brydon had taken turns being either the responsible husband/father and the one with the wandering eye.
So in The Trip to Spain, the roles revert to where they were in the first outing in 2010: Coogan as the brash, quasi-successful actor who can’t lock down a steady relationship, and Brydon as the dependable, if sometimes awkward, family man. This approach doesn’t invalidate the progress the characters made in their previous adventures (if anything, both of them have decided that stable relationships are best) but it also means that there isn’t a lot of new ground to cover.
As usual, Coogan’s on-screen life is the more tumultuous of the two: he’s in love with a married woman in New York, his agent has dropped him as a client, and his adult son is struggling with some important news. Brydon, by comparison, is mostly occupied by how long he can sustain his Roger Moore impression during one of Coogan’s pedantic lectures on European history.
There’s plenty of material in the third outing that fans of the earlier Trips will love. We get a plentiful helping of dueling celebrity impressions, including mimickry that melds actors into each other. Most notable is a version of the Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch as interpreted by Marlon Brando as Don Corleone - delightfully weird. There’s also the usual glimpses of the haute cuisine destinations that Coogan and Brydon are ostensibly reviewing, as well as the beautiful Spanish countryside.
Less obvious this time around are the literary references. The first Trip followed the lives of the Lake District poets in England, whereas the sojourns of Byron and Shelley and their contemporaries were a guidebook of sorts in Italy. In Spain we only get some notes on Cervantes (naturally) as well as on the most modern writer to be mentioned so far, Laurie Lee. Whether this was a conscious decision on the part of the cast and crew, or simply a result of the heavy editing necessary to trim down the TV series is hard to say, but it does end up putting more emphasis on the leads’ personal lives.
Even though much of the third film takes its cues from the format of the earlier installments, there is one spot where it diverges very vividly. With about 15 minutes remaining in the film, Coogan and Brydon’s week together comes to an end, but Coogan decides to stay on in Spain and work on a book. Then, on a whim, he takes a ferry to North Africa, setting up a final scene that I think few fans would expect, especially since past Trips usually return both men to Britain to contemplate their different home lives. The scene is either the most obvious cliffhanger thus far for another film or a definitive ending for the franchise - it all depends on how dark the creators are willing to get.
The Trip to Spain isn’t the best of the series, but it ably holds itself up in comparison to its predecessors. If Coogan and Brydon have another one in them, I’d love to see a new comic intrude on their adventure, if only for a sequence or two. Maybe they could match wits with a similarly gifted impressionist like Kevin Spacey, all while knocking around the United States? Just like travel, the possibilities are many, and I’d be on board for every Anthony Hopkins or Michael Caine-infused step of the way.
The Trip to Spain gets three stars out of four.
- I’ve never watched any of the original TV episodes that the movies are cut from, but I’d be curious to know which material got dropped and how it influenced the ending.
- The theatrical cut included one or two dream sequences, but I sort of wanted at least one more like the Tomás de Torquemada riff.