The Trip to Spain
Edwin Arnaudin: I’m going to go ahead and address the elephant in the room — what took you so long to watch The Trip and The Trip to Italy?
Bruce Steele: The previews didn’t appeal to me: It was two guys I didn’t know much about doing improv over haute cuisine. Since I avoid improvised comedy shows and food shows, I avoided the movies. I didn’t know what I was missing. What drew you to them?
Edwin: I was (and still am) fond of Steve Coogan’s work as bumbling British journalist Alan Partridge and his bizarre Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, directed by Michael Winterbottom and co-starring Rob Brydon. When I heard about 2010’s The Trip (originally shown as a six-part BBC series), all I needed to know was the three were working together again and the actors were once more playing fictionalized versions of themselves. And then the Michael Caine impressions started.
Bruce: The impressions are key, and delightful. You need to love making fun not only of Caine but also Al Pacino, Hugh Grant, Sean Connery, Woody Allen and especially Roger Moore. And Mick Jagger joins the mix in Spain. These are all cultural icons for me, so I was quickly won over. Younger people may fare less well.
Edwin: David Bowie and Robert De Niro, too, among others. I’m not well-versed in Moore, but almost everyone else Coogan and Brydon imitate while moving through the country at hand and enjoying fine dining are still working or have left a large enough mark on pop culture (e.g. Marlon Brando) to be almost instantly identifiable. I agree that the friends’ one-upmanship regarding who does the better impression as well as generally trying to crack the other’s stone veneer are the series’ top assets. But what do you make of the films’ more serious “subplots” and the visual travelogue components?
Bruce: I think The Trip to Spain is the best of the bunch in developing its characters and their peripheral stories — but appreciating that does depend in part on having seen the first two movies. Are you driven to Google to find out what’s true and what’s not about Steve and Rob?
Edwin: During the films and in the buzzy hours after they end, yes. Have I actually done the research? No, though I should probably do a little before our Asheville Movie Guys event on Sept. 18 (at 7 p.m. at the Fine Arts Theatre). Actually, I do recall checking up on Brydon’s “Small Man Trapped in a Box” gag after The Trip. It’s the kind of detail nutty enough to be fictional, but is of course fact. How about you?
Bruce: Ditto. I know enough to know that the families and girlfriends are fictional and Philomena, the movie Coogan co-wrote and starred in with Judi Dench, earning him an Oscar nomination for writing, is real. The rest – I’d rather keep my mind in the world of the movie. And I think this movie, among the three, gives that world the most richness beyond the comedy. The contrast between Steve’s ego, obsessive career focus, broken family and loneliness and Rob’s fertile family life is sort of obvious, but it works.
Edwin: Spain is certainly the installment in which the highest number of life events and those of the greatest personal intensity crash down on the friends, especially Steve. He’s spread himself a bit thin, especially on the romantic front, which serves as an invitation for hardships to pile on. Without giving too much away, the seriousness of the final 10 or so minutes was mostly successful for me, though somewhat less so than the synthesis of comedic and dramatic in the first two films.
Bruce: I’m willing to say the ending is quite unexpected, and it bears discussion. I think it’s smart and adds gravity to the whole series, but I’m looking forward to hearing other responses. Of course, to bend a cliché, these movies are not about the destination, they’re about the trip. And there’s a lot of good humor and delightful impressions along the way. I’ll give it an A-minus.
Edwin: Much as I enjoy the first two Trips and the copious laughter that Spain inspires, I sense some diminishing returns in Round Three. But while the latest film’s conclusion may not have worked as well as hoped for me, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt that it’s setting up something greater for the next adventure. That said, it gets a high B-plus from me.
Grade: A-minus. Rated R. Now playing at the Fine Arts Theatre
(Photos: IFC Films)