Saturday, September 9, 2017

On the Road Again: THE TRIP TO SPAIN

With Hollywood in the grip of its latest bout of late-sequel-itis, is it too much to idly wish for a My Dinner with Andre 2? (I’d settle for the action figures, at this point.) At least we have The Trips, now a trilogy of Michael Winterbottom films following Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as versions of themselves bickering, bantering, and playfully marking their showbiz territory while dining and driving through beautiful European countryside. The Trip to Spain may not have the sparkle of discovery the first one had, or the fresh melancholy fully flowering in the second (to Italy). But the filmmakers haven’t skipped a step, creating a lovely portrait of quixotic, drifting middle-aged ennui, a sort of prickly Antonioni by way of Michael Palin’s travelogues. What a deft wonder, allowing Coogan and Brydon to play up and against their individual vanities, prattling like better than the best comedian podcasters – full relaxed, erudite, anecdotal mode dotted with the expected bursts of dueling impressions. (Best is an extended bit in which Brydon drives Coogan crazy pretending Moorish architecture was created by Roger Moore. Runner-up: Coogan’s constant Philomena humblebrags.) 

One could hardly ask for funnier company, and Winterbottom (and uneven and eclectic director, but when he’s on he’s on) maintains a perfect balance of casually beautiful location shooting, drooling food close-ups, and witty chatty conversations that prattle on and on, pleasurable looping around the same pet themes. Professional contentment and resentment, literary and cultural references, and off-handed tossed-off commentary about the Way We Live Now are once again topics du jour. It’s all filtered through the recurring motifs of creative frustration, business negotiation, petty jealousies, fatherhood, and legacy. They’re soulful comedians, not quite sad clowns, but certainly on the way to wintering into wisdom if they’ll let themselves. It’s familiar, but comfortingly so, while differing slightly, and not only in the locations. The ending this time is a stinging scorpion’s tail, puncturing the good mood with a topical surprise cliffhanger (of sorts), darkly funny and tremulously unresolved. As Coogan pontificates in the picture, European films are allowed big, obvious metaphor. They just work. Here a story about aging entertainers enjoying the sights and tastes of a foreign country, trading tales of the biz with subtle power plays and literary/historical references becomes a subtle, sad portrait of two men – and maybe a culture – on the precipice, uncertain where to go but onwards, anyway.

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