Friday, May 22, 2020

The Trip to Greece: One Last Jaunt

Greece is the birthplace of the marathon and EU austerity budgets, but neither represents the style of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s culinary tours across Europe. It is only five-star restaurants and hotels for them, but if the formula works, why fiddle with it? The British comedic actors return for one more jaunt playing hyper-meta versions of themselves in Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Greece, which actually opens today in a handful of cities and also releases on-demand.

Coogan has won seven BAFTA Awards—and don’t you forget it. However, the caricature he has created of himself is somewhat lonely and regretful, especially compared to the uber-meta Brydon, who is a happily contented husband and father. Throughout the series, he has been totally fine to receive second-billing to Coogan, especially since it gives him the liberty to deflate his friend’s self-important pretensions.

This time around, they will be reviewing the finest restaurants in Greece, but they are well aware they have done this several times before (in Spain, Italy, and the North of England), as their jokes will attest. Turkish viewers might possibly object to the title, since they retrace Odysseus’s trek, starting at the site of ancient Troy in Turkey. Mortality will also cast a shadow over this Trip, because Coogan will constantly call his fictional son for news on his ailing fictional father.

Of course, the heart and soul of the latest Trip remains their improvised banter and one-upping celebrity impersonations. They revisit greatest hits, like Michael Caine and Roger Moore, but they probably get their biggest laughs doing Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Yet, in a way, the Trip movies have become like an erudite art-house equivalent to Friends and The Big Bang Theory. The jokes are funny, but the experience of periodically checking-in with these meta-characters is emotionally reassuring. We’ve seen exaggerated-Brydon’s career grow in prestige and popularity, while Coogan’s projected self tries to refocus on the family he did not properly prioritize on his way up.

Honestly, I would take the Trip franchise over Modern Family any day of the week. Seriously, have you ever seen Sofia Vergara impersonate Sean Connery? Case closed. Regardless, it is impressive how Coogan and Brydon can just flip the switch and start riffing. It is also clear Winterbottom knows how to get the best out of them. He might take a laissez-faire approach as they are improvising, but he still maintains the same wistful tone during the more dramatic and realistic interludes. Highly recommended for fans of Brydon and Coogan as performers and as characters, The Trip to Greece opens today (5/22) in a handful of theaters, including Santikos Palladium in San Antonio and also releases on watch-at-home alternatives.