A sequel that’s at least as good as the original? I wouldn’t have thought that possible, but I wasn’t going to miss The Trip to Italy, the latest road trip by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Their first culinary journey film was The Trip (2010) in which these two hysterically funny, highly literate British comics traveled and ate in restaurants in the north of England. The pretext was that Rob was asked to take on this assignment for The Observer and his girlfriend was not able to go, so he asked his old friend Steve. The highlight of these films is not the food, although there are food porn scenes and clearly these two enjoy eating and drinking fine wine.
Nope. The highlight is their interaction, banter and constant dueling impressions of famous actors. In The Trip, they outdid themselves in imitating Michael Caine at many stages of his career. In The Trip to Italy, they try to outdo each other in the best Brando, De Niro, Pacino, Bogart and Eastwood impressions. In one hysterical scene, they imitate Tom Hardy and Christian Bale in their unintelligible dialogue from behind the Batman mask. However, that is outdone by the impressions of the various James Bond actors, culminating in the bawdiest joke you will ever hear about a kumquat.
Coogan and Brydon also show their British loyalty by retracing the paths of their favorite Romantic poets, Byron and Shelley, posing in front of their plaques and statues and quoting them at length. Oh, and they drive a new Mini convertible, but that is homage to what Michael Caine drove in the 1969 caper film, The Italian Job. (Better than its 2001 remake, but both are very funny.) Another lovely moment is the two singing along to Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, the only CD Rob brought along. (First they have to debate how to pronounce her first name and whether her father was named Alan and really wanted a son.)
Coogan and Brydon are laugh-out-loud, snort-thru-your-nose funny. The 108-minute film is mostly improvised and director Michael Winterbottom may only need to plot out the itinerary and turn these two madmen loose. They travel down the Ligurian and Amalfi coasts, stopping in half a dozen places to dine and visit. The scenery is gorgeous, from the seacoasts to the streets of Rome to the glories of Capri.
There are some serious points in this lightly fictionalized film. The two leads play themselves, but their backstories are fictionalized. In the film, Coogan has a teenaged son who joins them briefly and Brydon has a wife and young daughter. Occasionally, they will stop their banter and mourn the problems of being aging men. While watching a table of young people drink and chat, Coogan notes that he probably would have gotten a smile from at least one young attractive women. “Now they just look straight through you,” he laments.
Here are the trailers for The Trip to Italy (2014) and The Trip (2010). The former is in theaters right now and the latter is available on Netflix streaming and other sources.
Both Brydon and Coogan are well-known comics and actors in England, but you may not be familiar with them. Coogan played the journalist Martin Sixsmith in Philomena, where he helps the character played by Judy Dench to seek out the child she was forced to give up for adoption when she was a teenager living in an Irish convent.
24 Hour Party People
My other favorite Steve Coogan film, however, is 24 Hour Party People from 2002. Taking place in 1976 through 1992, it’s the story of the birth of the punk rock scene in Manchester, England, set off by a legendary concert by the Sex Pistols. The concert audience was only 42 people, but was one of those events that hundreds claim to have attended.
Among those rocking with the Sex Pistols that night were four young musicians who were inspired to form the band Joy Division. Tony Wilson (Coogan), a Granada TV presenter, was there and decided it was his mission to bring this new kind of music to a larger audience. He founded Factory Records to record it and later opened a club, The Hacienda, to present it. The Hacienda became part of the rave and drug culture and eventually closed down for lack of revenue. The two-hour film is mainly the story of Joy Division, which later became New Order, and other Manchester bands.
I just watched the film again on YouTube and it’s as good as it was the first time I saw it. Click on this link and see it in its entirety.
Follow this blog, please
You can sign up to get an email each time I publish a new essay on Nancy Bishop’s Journal–usually about once a week. No spam, no password. Just put in your email address at the upper right side of this page. And thanks for reading!