To be blunt, sequels usually suck. Director Michael Winterbottom (a cagey, prolific English version of Steven Soderbergh) deviates from the sequel curse by delivering another witty, silly, perceptive movie about male friendship, the reality beneath the veneer of celebrity and how a spot-on Michael Caine or Al Pacino impersonation can bring the house down. The movie stars comedic actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as fictional representations of themselves traveling across Italy in a Mini Cooper in search of amazing food and experiences for an article they are writing for the English newspaper, The Observer. They eat beautifully crafted dishes, pine for lovely women they may or may not be able to obtain and overall entertain each other with clever banter and skillfully orchestrated impersonations.
Winterbottom, Coogan and Brydon first brought this structural template to audiences in 2010 with The Trip, which focused on the actors traveling through the north of England, hitting up restaurants for a similar journalistic piece. The funny thing about both movies is that neither character really knows anything about great food, other than that it’s really delicious. What does matter, however, is that the repartee between the two is wonderful to behold and that the melancholy undercurrent is moving.
A Trip to Italy, originally a six-part series on BBC and condensed for audiences overseas, catches Coogan and Brydon following the paths of poets Byron and Shelley through the country and dealing with their own middle-aged insecurities. As in the first movie, the surly and vain Coogan and the ebullient and vain Brydon make for wonderful traveling companions. Although Coogan has eyes for every attractive woman who passes before him, he’s marked by a newfound sense of responsibility for his teenage son; he’s also troubled by aging and weary of his Hollywood career that has really gone nowhere. Brydon, on the other hand, is supposedly happily married (but there is an affair) and is experiencing a career boost by landing a lead in a new Michael Mann crime movie. Coogan’s dual happiness and jealousy of his friend’s success precisely and humorously nail the subtle conflicts of male friendship, rarely dealt with in movies.
As with The Trip, this excursion is well worth taking. In fact, it’s even better than the first movie. Fans of whip-smart English comedy will find this cinematic gem irresistible.
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