‘The Trip to Spain’ Review: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon Reunite for Another Satiating Journey
The only thing better than watching people eat delicious food in gorgeous locations – besides actually eating it yourself – is watching two comedians do it. Michael Winterbottom launched what would become a beloved trilogy back in 2010 with The Trip, which began as a BBC miniseries that was edited into a feature for U.S. release. The first film found comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon traveling across Yorkshire devouring scrumptious dishes and showing off their best celebrity impressions. After reuniting for a second course in The Trip to Italy in 2014, the two are back for a third excursion in The Trip to Spain, a delight that adds some introspective notes to the series.
The third outing, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, opens, as usual, with Coogan calling Brydon to invite him on another tour of fine European restaurants and historical landmarks. The two jaunt across Spain, evading the expected tourist traps to explore the nooks and crannies of the Spanish countryside, all breathtakingly photographed. Brydon has finally found peace as a husband and father of two, but Coogan has slipped into a state of existential unease and professional decline. In between meals and check-ins at local inns, an irritable Coogan slips away for phone calls with his management agency about his latest script. Despite being an Oscar-nominee, as he frequently reminds everyone around him, the studio is more interested in a young up-and-comer, to which Coogan angrily retorts, “But I’ve already up and come!”
Though Coogan is the focal point of this movie, the second Trip secured Brydon as the series’ secret MVP. We saw a more vulnerable side to the Welsh character in Italy and in the third film his impressions take the spotlight. He revives his Al Pacino, this time on the stage of an iconic Spanish theater. This time he’s also got a running Mick Jagger impression, which is so good precisely because it’s bad, despite his belief otherwise. At one point he goes so deep into his Roger Moore you think he’ll get stuck there forever. Coogan, meanwhile, has polished his De Niro to near-perfection and breaks into a career-spanning Bowie impression. And yes, as I’m sure you’ve been impatiently wondering, the Michael Caine impression-off briefly returns too.
There’s plenty of humorous moments to savor in the film, but the laughs in The Trip to Spain aren’t as rib-achingly funny as the first two times around. And after a while the impressions and familiar set-ups begin to lose a bit of flair. But the film deepens the melancholic, existential notes from end of The Trip to Italy, and continues to evolve with its characters emotionally. Like a fine wine or a stinky cheese, Winterbottom’s The Trip movies have only gotten more mature with age, and Spain is the most thoughtful one yet.
The first excursion found Coogan and Brydon in their 40s, full of verve and fueled by plucky boyish charm. They used their comedic talents to impress women, and Coogan filled time between meals with a few one-night stands. In Italy the series began to reek with the stench of mid-life loneliness as the two traced the steps of Romantic poets across the country. In its third installment, Winterbottom carries their sense of longing further, imagining his characters as a modern Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, a recurring theme that sculpts their journey.
Their aging weariness slinks its way into everything from their conversations about Cervantes’ late success and Marlon Brando’s final roles to a surprising revelation from Coogan’s son. Their age is particularly present in multiple scenes of the duo exercising, huffing as they jog through Spanish villas at a snail’s pace. Though Brydon seems more content getting older, Coogan fantasizes about wild adventures and fends off haunting dreams of failure. In one hilarious nightmare sequence, Coogan dreams about his 2014 Oscar loss to another Steve, 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen (which technically went to writer John Ridley).
The Trip movies could have easily continued the same food porn, travel, and impression schtick in new locations, but The Trip to Spain is much more interested in the interior lives of its leads. The fictional Coogan and Brydon are characters you feel for, not merely entertainers goofing off in one fancy restaurant after the next. This film feels more like a fully formed feature, structurally and narratively. If this ends up being the last trip we take with these two, (fingers crossed it isn’t), it’s a satisfying final dish to what’s been delightful three-course meal.