Review: The Trip to Italy (2014)

The Trip to Italy is a genuine pleasure of a comedy sequel. I found the first film, about British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon on a dining tour of Northern England, thoroughly enjoyable, but it too often showed itself to be a reduction of a six-part TV series (it was broadcast on BBC Two). Transitions were sometimes clunky or confusing. The Trip to Italy is a more seamless reduction and so works better as a two hour film. What’s more, being about the duo’s foodie trip through Italy, it’s just as funny as The Trip but even more enticing.

This time, Rob calls Steve; the last trip made a successful book, and Rob wants to repeat the success with a dining tour of Italy. Again, the film is chiefly a collection of improvised conversations and impersonations over various dinners. Director Michael Winterbottom does indulge in some beautiful shots of sailing the Italian coastline though, and Rob and Steve do some sightseeing. If the first film focused more on Steve, the sequel is more centred on Rob, with their roles somewhat reversed. Still single, Steve is becoming a better father, whereas family man Rob now flirts with infidelity.

The spare, meandering plot and improvised dialogue make it difficult to judge the film according to conventional criterions. This film just doesn’t fit into the trite categories of solid direction, good writing, and a strong story. Is it funny? Yes. Is it well made? Sure. Truth be told, I could have watched the film one more time as soon as it ended, and my brothers and I are continually repeating jokes and lines from both movies. Of course I like this film though: it’s about funny, witty conversations over good food in beautiful settings. So much of my fondness for this movie is that it’s mostly about things I like doing in real life. The experience of the film is like a good meal: that sought after combination of verbal fun, interesting conversation, and delicious food.

The film is more than just a good time though; there’s a strange depth to some of the comedy. For instance, Rob’s reprisal of his Small Man in a Box routine with a dead body in the ruins of Pompeii is uncomfortably funny and surprisingly melancholy; he wears his humour as mask for facing non-existence.

And what are we to make of both films’ interest in Romantic poetry? In The Trip, Coleridge and Wordsworth were constant sources for conversation, jokes, and sightseeing in Northern England. In The Trip to Italy, Rob and Steve are constantly referencing Shelley and Lord Byron and seeking out locations associated with the two poets’ exiles in Italy. The associations don’t strike me as filler. Rather, they seem to suggest that these films, for all of their flippancy and slick referential humour, are also concerned with the weightier, perennial themes of adulthood, masculinity, and the artists’ life and legacy.

Even more than its predecessor, The Trip to Italy achieves some moments of profundity amidst the delightful banter, food, and scenery.

8 out of 10

The Trip to Italy (2014, UK)

Directed by Michael Winterbottom; starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.