Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
This week’s online opening doesn’t seem to be involved in revenue-sharing with theaters, so remember you can still do that with Spaceship Earth and Scarecrow. In the meantime, I needed to keep up with the latest in a series with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. You can rent the previous Trip installments at the re-opened Scarecrow Video pickup window, needless to say.
The Trip to Greece
The previous Trip movie left off with Steve Coogan being chased by terrorists across a North African desert, a welcome bit of surrealism that would not have been out of place in a Bob Hope-Bing Crosby Road picture (as I said in my Seattle Weekly review).
It comes as something of a disappointment that this daffy cliffhanger has been tossed aside with a couple of lines of dialogue in the follow-up film, The Trip to Greece. The new one retreats to the usual formula—pleasant enough, if a little tired. This time Coogan, Rob Brydon, and director Michael Winterbottom take their traveling shtick to the land of the classics, where echoes of The Odyssey don’t work quite as well as the Don Quixote references in The Trip to Spain, its predecessor (for my money, the funniest movie in the series).
Everybody’s a little bit older, and even as the two semi-friends make their way through a string of four-star Greek restaurants, the subject of mortality flickers. The nearness of a refugee camp clouds the sunny outlook of a drive through the olive trees, and a German waitress’s innocent question in the middle of a meal—“Do you want to continue?”—sounds ominously existential. This thread will continue through the film’s melancholy final stanza, following the trajectory of most of the other chapters. This has been signaled throughout the series by the soundtrack; even during the inspired bouts of joke-cracking and manic celebrity impressions, there was always Michael Nyman’s music (from Winterbottom’s Wonderland) to sadden the action. I think I actually like Spain the most because it flies off toward silliness at the end rather than rumination.
Things are perhaps just a little too settled overall in Greece, the rivalry between Coogan and Brydon now merely a routine, the romances of the past now mellowed into gesture. It’s still funny, and the impersonations are splendid. You still treasure the little anxieties about behavior; at what age, for instance, does one become too old to wear T-shirts with logos on them? Coogan always has a fussy opinion about these things.
They collaborators are allegedly going to take a break now, which sounds like a good idea. But I really have enjoyed these films, especially the subject of how men are measured by performance—in this case, two comedians one-upping each other, but in the larger sense (as when Coogan and Brydon take a competitive swim in the Aegean) the spectacle of men expected to define themselves through achievement and alpha-standards. They might be passing through the beauties of Italy or Greece, but Coogan and Brydon will still be peacocking their Mick Jagger impressions to death.
Robert Horton is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.