The Trip to Spain

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan are still hilarious three movies later, the most consistent comedy franchise ever

The Trip to Spain PosterIf you’ve seen one of “The Trip” movies, you know what you’re in for: celebrity impressions, driving through the gorgeous European countryside, a bit of carpool karaoke, and lots of food porn. With “The Trip to Spain,” Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan and director Michael Winterbottom have refined that formula even further. You have to wonder, what could possibly stop this franchise?

Well, they found it, in a hilarious gag to close out “The Trip to Spain” that might be about the only plausible capper to this delightful series. Because there’s nothing new to report about “The Trip to Spain,” it’s just more of what works.

They do Mick Jagger talking about public schools, Marlon Brando doing Monty Python’s “Spanish Inquisition,” and do Roger Moore for just about forever. The difference is that these routines have some narrative built into them. Brydon does his Roger Moore impression long after it has become annoying to his co-stars, and you can feel the awkward tension just adding to the humor. Or when they revert back to their James Bond play acting, you genuinely want to see how this make believe exchange ends, with Brydon’s fork quivering as it comes up to his mouth as though he’s about to be poisoned to death.

Part of the charm of “The Trip” movies is that Coogan and Brydon are somewhat insufferable. In the first film it was clear they did not like each other, and that’s gone away. And “The Trip to Italy” might still have the most emotional heft. But it’s been replaced with playful one-upsmanship of Coogan constantly reminding he has two Oscar nominations for “Philomena.” “The Trip” movies in many ways are about masculinity, with their impressions and sarcastic one-liners a means of asserting themselves.

So it’s wrong to think these are just trivial comedies. Three movies in, it’s hard to find another comedy trilogy that has been so consistent, funny and even thoughtful. I have a feeling Winterbottom could still yet revive “The Trip” for a fourth film, and whatever joke they have to bridge the gap between movies will be hysterical. But if this really is the end, I’ll miss hearing how Michael Caine’s voice has gotten even more broken up. “She was only 15 years old!”

3 ½ stars

The Trip to Italy

Michael Winterbottom’s sequel to ‘The Trip’ is as pleasant as funny as the original.

“I have drunken deep of joy, And I will taste no other wine tonight,” wrote Percy Bysshe Shelley. Ah, but how sweet it is to experience both, drinking in the pleasures of frivolous banter while also admiring the drinks and cuisine of choice.

“The Trip to Italy” is drunk on such vices, a simple, palatable film that improves on the original “The Trip” without striving for much more. The carefree structure is the same, the food porn is just as succulent, the dialogue is just as snooty, sophisticated and silly, Steve Coogan is ever the droll sourpuss and the travelogue setting of Italy over the England countryside is even more beautiful.

The first “Trip” pleased many with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s playful yet eloquent and polished back and forth of impressions ranging from Michael Caine to Al Pacino to Woody Allen. Those who thought the Michael Caine bit from the original was “The Trip’s” high point and enough reason to revisit it on YouTube time and again will be pleased to know his voice has made a reappearance to warrant an admission price yet again. This time Caine is flanked by muffled, inscrutable impressions of Christian Bale and Tom Hardy from “The Dark Knight Rises,” two intense actors you’d never mention to their face you can’t understand a word they’re saying. Continue reading “The Trip to Italy”

CIFF Review: Philomena

“Philomena” is based on a great true story, but it makes a mess of its main characters and its storytelling method.


“Philomena” screened as a part of the Chicago International Film Festival. This early review is merely an impression of the version screened.

What makes a great story? Most people think it’s just a good plot; juicy twists and surprises are all it takes. “Philomena” and the real life story behind Martin Sixsmith’s book is filled with teen pregnancies, evil nuns, gay Republicans, death, reunion, comedy and religion; it’s got it all.

But Stephen Frears’s film muddles the characters, the ideas and the storytelling style that would help make it great. It’s a mess of tones and loosely fleshed out philosophies on faith and forgiveness that keeps “Philomena” from working as either a detective thriller or as a journalistic investigation.

Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) was a BBC News broadcaster forced out of a job after a scandalous quote about burying the news was wrongly attributed to him. Looking for work, he decides to take a human interest piece centered on the elderly Philomena Lee (Judi Dench).

Lee spent her teenage years living in a convent, and after accidentally becoming impregnated, the nuns made her atone for her sins by giving away her son to an American family when he was just a toddler, forbidding her to search for her son or reveal she even had one.

Sixsmith isn’t so much moved by her story or by Lee as he is intrigued that it’ll make for juicy copy. He takes Lee to Washington D.C. to search for her son, only to dig up a conspiracy surrounding how little they can discover. Continue reading “CIFF Review: Philomena”

Ruby Sparks

Great fiction is almost always as good as its most interesting character. Zoe Kazan has written for herself a wonderfully infectious sprite in this film’s title character, Ruby Sparks. Her bright red hair beams off the screen, she’s charming as hell and we don’t seem to mind that’s she blatantly a mystical, hipster dream girl.

But the big problem with “Ruby Sparks” is that the film is really about Ruby’s fictional creator, Calvin (Paul Dano), and not her.

Calvin is the modern equivalent of J.D. Salinger, a visionary who wrote the next great American novel at 19, now plagued with writer’s block trying to envision the next big idea. Calvin’s surrounded by pretentious, faux-intellectuals and his shallow, sex-craved brother Harry (Chris Messina), so you can see why Calvin would feel like a hack if these were the people who admired him.

In a desperate fervor to understand himself, Calvin puts into words the girl of his dreams. In his imagination, she’s constantly backlit with God-like sunlight, and his vision of her is an amalgam of romantic quirks. She’s from Dayton, Ohio, doesn’t know how to drive, is an amateur painter, and so on. Ruby is perfect in all her imperfections. Continue reading “Ruby Sparks”

The Trip

“All you can do is do something else that’s already been done but do it different or better.” This is Rob Brydon’s advice to Steve Coogan, both of whom are British comedians and talented voice impersonators. “The Trip” is their clever attempt to re-imagine the cheap laughs we usually get from impressions.

By saying we get cheap laughs from impressions, I do not mean to belittle the talents of Coogan and Brydon. In fact, they’ve shown in “The Trip” great versatility at convincingly portraying themselves in this quasi-mockumentary.

The question really is, how do you center a film around impressions? We all enjoy impressions, but they must be taken in doses, and they have little ability to convey actual storytelling. The genius thing about “The Trip” is how it is hardly a conventional narrative and yet does not seem completely aimless in its attempts to showcase these two comedians’ talents. Continue reading “The Trip”