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Trip to Spain, The
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by Jay Seaver

"It's nice to take a trip every once in a while."
4 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2017: I am tempted to see just how much of my review for 2014's "The Trip to Italy" I could cut and paste into this one because it still applies, maybe changing a few details. Michael Winterbottom, Rob Brydon, and Steve Coogan have not shaken things up here at all, sticking close to the formula that made the first two "Trip" films (and presumably the television series that the films are edited down from) work, and that's not a problem at all for those that simply want more of them.

So it's been another three years, and when Steve calls Rob to ask if he's down for another week of travel, stopping in restaurants, and then writing the trip up as a serial for the newspaper, Rob looks at his house full of small, unruly children and says, sure, where to? Spain is the answer this time, and they get started by taking the ferry. After praising the boat as a great, authentic way to get away from the bustle of modern life, Coogan soon becomes seasick, which turns out to be a bit of an omen: Aside from how it looks as if his son won't be able to join them on the last few days of the trip this year, there's a shakeup going on with his management in America that seems to be leading him behind (though they seem to be interested in Rob).

It seems likely that, however autobiographical The Trip may have been to start, it's become a sort of alternate universe for these to British comedians, though one that is sometimes oddly static: Coogan still twists himself up with the pressure he feels to advance his career, craving recognition and success in Hollywood, while Brydon seems more well-balanced, content to be a middle-class entertainer rather than a star - or, possibly, too timid to make the leap. It's a solid core that, perhaps, works better in the original sitcom form, where a set-up like that is more readily accepted as a relatively unchanging hook to hang jokes from, rather than a film series where one perhaps expects a bit more advancement. Coogan, Brydon, and Winterbottom recognize that, occasionally pointing out that Brydon has actually appeared in big Hollywood movies a few times since The Trip to Italy, though it's the sort of thing that the filmmakers eventually shrug their shoulders over because, on the other side, there's something to Steve's story of being nominated for an Oscar for Philomena's screenplay and having to fret over some newcomer being brought in to polish his latest that will certainly speak to the audience, even if a lot of the other things going on where their careers are concerned is kind of inside business.

Though that may be the case, the film is still made by consummate pros. Winterbottom evokes a sense of how trips like this, or even vacations when you get past a certain age, can come with a cruel paradox of having the means to see and appreciate a beautiful area but not the time or energy - you've got to get to the next stop, work off the delicious food you've just eaten, and turn in early. There's really only time to see one or two things in cities full of wonders, and by the end, there are just too many things pulling your attention away. Perhaps that's a function of the editing, and the series doesn't give quite that impression, but it makes for a good film. Visually, it's in line with the more posh second film/series than the first, capturing a nice spot but not too glossy: The food looks good, the scenery is nice, and the audience can appreciate that without necessarily slavering over it.

The two actors playing exaggerated versions of themselves are very funny, as can be expected.. They're needling each other a bit less this time around, playing their fame-seeker and everyman a bit closer to the center. It actually makes their attempts to one-up each other a little more tense at times, with the result as often as not being a good laugh from a relatively small poke, and even bigger laughs coming because the pair are comedians, and even when they are trying to engage each other as intellectuals, their natural impulse is to do it in funny ways. Some of the best bits, naturally, are the now-de rigeur dueling impressions, which get a little loopy once they're impersonating Mick Jagger doing their Michael Caines back at them, although going mano-a-mano as John Hurt is pretty terrific. Things get messy when the pair have an actual audience toward the end as friends and colleagues join them at the last stop or two, leading to the pair talking over each other, as if in competition. It's probably good character work, in that they are trying to one-up each other by this point, but it has the jokes feeling "pretty good" rather than "great" for a moment.

The same sort of thing happened at the end of "The Trip to Italy", and one could grumble about that, or recognize that these movies are by their nature going to be cut from the same cloth, at least until Winterbottom, Coogan, and Brydon come up with a change that's worth upending the table for. The "Trip"s don't need to be anything but funny and an enjoyable way to play tourist by proxy, so we might as well be thankful that they do this quite well.

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originally posted: 06/30/17 13:57:47
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival Boston 2017 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2017 series, click here.

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  DVD: 12-Dec-2017


  03-Aug-2017 (M)
  DVD: 12-Dec-2017

Directed by
  Michael Winterbottom

Written by

  Steve Coogan
  Rob Brydon
  Marta Barrio
  Claire Keelan

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