The Trip To Italy

***

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in The Trip To Italy
"When the freshest food is eaten by rotting mortals and family is little more than a fragile crutch above the abyss, funny jokes can no longer hide the tragedy."

Michael Winterbottom, master of variety, successful tackler of difficult to film literature, has taken on Lord Byron's early 19th century narrative poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and mixed its war weary disillusionment with Roberto Rossellini's 1954 Journey To Italy, in which we travel with Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders while their relationship unravels.

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon still play variations of themselves, keep their real names, and enjoy impersonations of some Italian-American actors under a welcoming sun. The dueling Michael Caines are only hinted at here ["I buried 14 Batmen"] and are followed with the usual Godfather fare - Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando (Coogan with crispy bread stuffed in both cheeks) alternate with a run-through of all the 007 portrayers.

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Winterbottom's sequel to The Trip exhibits a grand despair, cloaked in a Borsalino, affable, stepping on ancient tiles with a yawning loneliness.

This time, the trip, again an assignment from The Observer, has the two men eat in a series of restaurants while they drive through Italy and take photos in places tied to poets Byron and Shelley. The food looks terrific, the landscape is beautiful, and the clowning men cannot shake off their air of misery. "By Heaven! it is a splendid sight to see - For one who hath no friend, no brother there," Lord Byron wrote in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Are these two men friends? Why has the spark of dueling competition in their first outing through the northern English Lake District made way for bored acceptance of each other.

You get the impression that Steve and Rob - if as actors or alter-egos is unclear - picked what they thought was missing for them in their previous journey together. I want to be a family man too, one could have said, and I want to have an affair with a random woman in a subordinate position and get an offer from Hollywood, the other. Well, they got their wishes.

Coogan in a murky LA, looking out over the city, his T-shirt inside out, is on the phone with Rob. Next shot we are in Piedmont driving through lush landscapes. Self-reflection is not their middle name, so they talk about "second album syndrome", while lunching on stuffed onions and peppers and the start of a long line of utterly delicious looking pasta dishes. "I'm affable," says Brydon, "my public persona is even more affable."

They eat quail and coniglio, and talk most blatant nonsense as the gap widens. "We are both eating game! It's very good for you - like exercise." How the rabbit's exercise transfers into the meal is quickly forgotten as they move on to cannibalistic themes ending in the difference between eating Stephen Hawking's legs or his brain.

Coogan's 16-year-old son Joe (Timothy Leach) Skypes with him from Ibiza and Brydon, by impersonating Hugh Grant, gets close to an English woman named Lucy (Rosie Felner) who is part of the crew of the sailboat named Patience. The octopuses they eat are "very Jules Verne" says Coogan, who in LA goes "running on the beach with Owen Wilson." "Running with or after?" is Brydon's snappy response.

The Amalfi Coast, Rome, Capri - the places outshine each other in beauty and charm while the soundtrack has the two men shouting on the sailboat and screeching along with Alanis Morrisette songs in the car. Selfies with Shelley-lived-here plaques mark the search for La Dolce Vita.

Coogan and Brydon carry big, square, neutral-colored Normcore messenger bags with them, waiting for something real to wake them out of their self-imposed desireless daze, as if they could grab it and carry it away with them, back to their dispirited lives at home, wherever that may be. Emma [Claire Keelan), Coogan's assistant and photographer Yolande (Marta Barrio) make an appearance again, as they did in The Trip.

Emma is now pregnant and lets us in on a few of her favorite things, from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to Roman Holiday's Via Margutta (where Gregory Peck's Joe Bradley stored away Audrey Hepburn's princess), from the villa in Jean-Luc Godard's Le M├ępris to Ingrid Bergman's skull discovery in Journey To Italy. She knows her references, yet, when the married Rob confides in her and asks for advice on his infantile and cowardly love life, she smiles and excuses herself as temporarily too hormonally challenged to give him an answer.

What remains of these two characters for posterity? We learn that Coogan cried at the end of Mamma Mia, and that Brydon in Pompeii bonds with an ancient volcano victim in a glass box. "I love your sandals." The wondrous is gone. What happened to the idea of sacrifice? When the freshest food is eaten by rotting mortals and family is little more than a fragile crutch above the abyss, funny jokes can no longer hide the tragedy.

The self-pity act is very clearly out of place here with the formula in tatters. While Magic In The Moonlight inspires a trip on gossamer wings, The Trip To Italy clips them.

Weary from war were the heroes of Romantic poetry. What are these guys weary from today? Not enough fame and money? Getting old? Lovely tattooed Italian teenage girls don't reciprocate their eye contact?

To quote Lord Byron: "What is the worst of woes that wait on age? What stamps the wrinkle deeper on the brow? To view each loved one blotted from life's page, And be alone on earth, as I am now."

What's next? The Trip to Portugal?

Reviewed on: 12 Aug 2014
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The Trip To Italy packshot
Two men take a humorous journey through Italy in search of understanding and delicious food.

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Writer: Michael Winterbottom

Starring: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Rosie Fellner

Year: 2014

Runtime: 115 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, Italy

Festivals:

Sundance 2014

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