Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Travelers' Treks: THE TRIP TO GREECE

Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip series has become one of modern moviegoing's most reliable pleasures. What a comfort and joy to return to these journeys following Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as versions of themselves on some new sightseeing and dining tour around a European country. They started in 2010 in England, went to Italy in 2014, found their way through Spain in 2017, and now find themselves in Greece. Each installment builds on loose, clever, absorbing conversations and patiently teased out accumulation of character details. Regular travels with these blokes gets only more enjoyable with each wonderful entry, as their focus on history—global, writerly, personal, ancient—feeds an ever more bittersweetly charming interest in fleeting pleasures and enduring truths, the mortality of man and meal, the lasting effects of work and art. All along they talk and talk and talk. These are literate, cultured dialogues, peppered with impressions and resentments, pop songs and poetry. I could listen to them for hours. In fact, by now, I suppose I have.

The gents at the center maintain a crackling chemistry, bantering easily, slipping into a similar frame of reference, steeped in knowledge of the classical world, lovers of literature, fluent in 20th century pop culture. At each stop, they’re given gorgeous food lovingly prepared and photographed. Around the table and behind the wheel the words chatter and clatter, clash and build, jest and jab. It’s a procession of rambling travelogue Dinner(s) with Andre, deep and shallow, fascinating and facile, learned and light. They get along—but are informed by the public personas which dovetail and diverge in interesting ways, needling Coogan for trading his comedian roots for his Hollywood and award-circuit aspirations, while Brydon eagerly chirps along his “light entertainer” reputation. As funny as they are, alone and together, there’s always a sense they really care — care about their trips, their passions, their understanding of history and culture, their careers, their families, their friendship. How refreshing, and how beautifully understated it is, to be around people of intelligence and complication for a time.

Last time had, appropriately enough, overt Quixote references, which are here fittingly traded for a structure related to Odysseus’ winding way home. As the camera makes its way after their vehicles across picturesque landscapes—verdant forests, vast fields, beautiful blue waters, rolling hills, impressive ruins—or parks at their tables in all manner of restaurants, the men are most excellent company. As the series has grown, it's endlessly enjoyable to watch the repetitions and variations, jocular accruals of recurring bits and in-jokes and a lovely circular logic of a friendship deeply felt and convincingly expressed in all its complications and charms, equal parts companionship and competition. The familiarity of this dynamic, and the constant breathtaking backdrops, make the films familiar and comfortable as the best long-form stories while maintaining distinct pleasures. That these films have been happening for ten years now only enhances the sense that they’re about the passage of time—and this new one most of all. It’s a movie about the past piling up behind an ever-shifting present, big life events and modern reference points the fleeting backbeat to a tour of modern life perched on antiquity. In The Trip to Greece’s quietly moving final sequences, there’s a confrontation with mortality—a sudden shift of mood that plays fair with the audience’s connection with these characters and understanding of their lives. I hope we can keep traveling with them as long as they’ll let us.

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