‘The Trip to Greece’ Review: Steve and Rob Get Older, But These Movies Never Do
In times like these, a movie like The Trip to Greece could seem a little cruel. Here are two successful actors roaming Europe, dining in the fanciest restaurants imaginable, spending unseemly amounts of money, all to write one single article about the local culinary scene for The Observer. Eating in restaurants? Tourism? Enormous print journalism budgets? In the spring of 2020, the plot of The Trip to Greece sounds like more of a fantasy than Star Wars.
The actual film itself is timelier than you might expect, even from its opening scenes, which proceed in much the same fashion as the previous three Trips. In each one — all of which initially aired as six-part BBC TV series that were cut down to feature-film length for American release — Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play loosely fictionalized versions of themselves and embark on a culinary tour of a European locale. In 2010’s The Trip, Coogan largely undertook the journey to impress a woman — when they broke up just before their travels he reluctantly invited Brydon along to keep him company. In between gastronomic delights, the pair trade celebrity impressions and try to make each other laugh — not so much to pass the time as to prove, once and for all, which of the two highly competitive frenemies is funnier.
By The Trip to Greece (which follows The Trip to Italy and The Trip to Spain), no additional motivation is required; this is simply something the two men do together. There’s even less setup than usual; as Greece begins, Steve and Rob are already in Turkey, where they plan to retrace Odysseus’ path home following the Trojan War. Steve seems a bit more relaxed than in previous Trips; his anxiety about his perpetually floundering career is less pronounced. He even seems less exasperated by Rob’s presence and his nonstop impressions. Occasionally, he looks like he might even value his travel partner’s company.
Director Michael Winterbottom, who collaborated on all four Trips with Coogan and Brydon, continues the aesthetic he established in each of the previous installments: Gorgeous vistas of Steve and Rob’s car touring through the rugged European landscape, dinners shot at impossibly scenic restaurants punctuated with comedy-enhancing cutaways to busy kitchens, where anonymous chefs are hard at work preparing the sublime cuisine. Steve and Rob supply the requisite improvised impressions that have become The Trip’s trademark.
On Steve and Rob’s first stop in The Trip to Greece, they pause for a photo op in front of the famous Trojan Horse, a clear signal from Winterbottom and company to look beneath the film’s deceptively simple facade. Coogan and Brydon’s innate comic chemistry is an undeniable piece of The Trip’s appeal, but focusing on it obscures how these men use their banter to work through their fears and insecurities in a way that would be hailed as brave works of autobiography if they took place in a drama instead of a buddy movie about guys who like to imagine what Hercules in New York would sound like if it starred Werner Herzog instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
As The Trips have progressed, their endings have become more experimental, and more surprising. The Trip to Greece arrives at a very unexpected destination, one foreshadowed by an earlier scene where the two friends debate who should wear the mask of comedy and the mask of tragedy during the photo shoot for their latest Observer article. As the real world has made clear so many times over the past several months, those masks are just as easily traded in our own lives, which can careen off in unexpected directions at a moment’s notice.
The marketing materials for The Trip to Greece warn that this will be the final installment of the series — which, if true, would be a tragedy in and of itself. (Rob and Steve should continue doing these until they’re physically incapable of driving a car or they make The Trip to America, whichever comes last.) If this is The Trip’s finale, the movie — and particularly its final 15 minutes — concludes in appropriately bittersweet fashion that suits not only the ending of a great film series but the collective mood of our home quarantine era as well. The Trip to Greece reminds us that anyone who gets to take a picturesque holiday with good food and friends should savor every last second of it. Because it won’t last forever. And it could all end when you least expect it.
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