In a rustic Spanish eatery, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are delivered another delicious tapas course of oysters. In a reflex, a wonderfully mad expression sets like a mask on Brydon’s face. Coogan immediately catches the cue, obliging with a tilt of the head, squaring up his jaw and breathing down into his devastatingly funny Roger Moore impression. Director Michael Winterbottom subtly shifts his pace to accomodate the folly; intensifying the scene with tight angles and accentuated editing. Brydon triggers a sublime exchange of faux spy food poisoning with; “Come come Mr Bond.” The delight of “The Trip to Spain” is getting back with these two gents who seem to relish a relaxing holiday, badgering one another about their different stages of an extended mid-life existential crisis.
“The Trip” introduced Coogan and Brydon ribbing the living Christ out of one another through a brisk British countryside. Coogan wrestled a failing relationship and the melodrama of a stunted international fame, Brydon played a (many) voice of reason and humility to equalise his ego. “The Trip to Italy” returned to Coogan and Brydon a few years on, both slightly more successful and revelling in the stunning Italian locales only enlivened their pining for Hollywood. This time Rob struggled with his star on the rise and the pursuits of a career, and lustful temptations. Coogan was experiencing some Hollywood success and was using this trip to soul search about reining in his pursuits to reconnect with fatherhood.
“The Trip to Spain” gets the boys back on the road, nearing fifty and repeatedly telling themselves that their vintage is is nearly “ripe” for consumption. Coogan’s “Philomena” success is not fulfilling, but an agitation to a continued hustle. Coogan wants to take this third journey to rekindle memories of his youth for a memoir. Brydon continues to hustle getting the occasional opportunity and measuring international success in the fact that David Bowie followed him on Twitter. Brydon sets out to theme the reviews for “The Trip to Spain,” like “Don Quixote;” with Coogan playing the chivalrous Quixote, espousing all the ways he’d correct the world and Brydon as his trusty Sancho Panza, eviscerating the preaching with wit and Michael Caine impressions.
While each entry to the series calls into question how closely Coogan and Brydon are to the characters we see on screen, it’s clear that if these characters aren’t completely auto-biographical they’re definitely feelings that these men have seen in their mirror. They’re puffed up feel good projections; they’re the sickly, tired hung-over appraisals, or flickers of doubt that ripple through ones internal workings. They feel raw and authentic as well as hilarious.
Winterbottom can’t help but observe some completely magical moments of fifty year old men, poised like the Jaws of Life to keep the window open to an enduring legacy. Once in particular is when Brydon goes for a lumbering late night run, his gate resembling a man with a casual relationship with fitness. Through a district simmering with activity he spots Coogan. In a momentary rest on his haunches he catches part of the interaction. Coogan casually spilling the beans to a beautiful bar tender that he’s a writer and that something he wrote was nominated for an Academy Award. She’s genuinely impressed. There’s a beautiful pause and a straightening of her posture that accompanies her “wow” that you sense is the precise gift that Coogan needed to cultivate his ego for another day.
“The Trip” series, much like Richard Linklater’s “Before” series, was becoming this beautiful cinematic gift of an evolving relationship that, despite the gags, impressions and frequent breakouts into song was loaded with such authentic insights into the typical dissatisfaction with the human condition. The Quixote/Sancho Panza relationship dynamic - that fits so beautifully with the entire series - sets the course for the film. Winterbottom models the trajectory of the characters in the most overt way yet. At the end of “The Trip” and “The Trip to Italy” I had laughed so hard and been so disarmed that the emotional moments almost have you ready to roll a tear. At the conclusion of “The Trip to Spain,” it was a more distant realisation - “oh I see what they did there.”
In the second entry to the series, “The Trip to Italy,” the boys are stuck with one lone CD for their road trip; Alanis Morisette’s “Jagged Little Pill.” Along the way, the boys take a digression examining and teasing the song lyrics and their target audience; especially pop anthem “Ironic.” “The Trip to Spain,” is ultimately a slightly deflating experience. Instead of heartfelt and dissatisfied existential ramblings laden with a barrage of silliness; Winterbottom is resolute to make the entire film - and any modicum of hope for these characters - a punchline to a joke. A little too ironic, yeah I really do think.