The Trip To Greece is to be the final of Michael Winterbottom’s faux-documentary travel series, which partners Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon for a scenic tour of luxurious restaurants in enviable locales. And thank God, because after four “Trips” the magic is gone.
In 2010, The Trip was an unexpected delight. Like its sequels, it was a British TV mini-series that’d been recut into a palatable film runtime and repackaged for worldwide consumption. Coogan and Brydon played up their personas to become a sharp comedy double-act: Coogan is the suffering straight man with pretentious ambitions and an insatiable appetite for women; Brydon is a happy family man and daffy stooge who’ll never be knocked down by his cohort’s caustic attitude. First, they toured the culinary scene of Northern England. Then came The Trip to Italy and The Trip to Spain, each with a “back at it again” vibe that was self-mocking and a wee bit bleak. After all, a highbrow sequel is still a sequel, which chafes at the prestigious heights of art for which Coogan snootily strives. With The Trip to Greece, the balance shifts from cheeky self-awareness to battered rehashing as the two discuss the inevitably of repeating yourself as the years drag on. And what a drag it is.
There’s always been a thread of melancholy through this series. In each film, the men banter amid sumptuous surroundings while B-plots deal in loss, self-doubt, and failure both personal and professional. In The Trip to Greece, wryly-goofy scenes are interlaced with calls home, which threaten to shatter the fun of this glorious trip. Though always ready with a silly quip and a smile, alone Brydon longs for his young daughter, who hasn’t yet mastered the art of a video call. Meanwhile, Coogan fields calls from his grown son, who warns the comedian’s father is in poor health. An offer to fly straight back feels half-hearted. As Coogan tucks his phone away, we’re meant to see him likewise tucking away the worry and obligation that comes with those calls. Yet these emotional beats hit limply, feeling more required than earned.
Here be the clowns caper and bicker for our bemusement! Now, behold how they are flawed, heartsick, and homesick. It worked so beautifully the first two or three times. Why not now? Perhaps their middle-age ennui isn’t aging well. Coogan’s world-weariness feels one note and maybe a bit vexing when placed against the incredible opportunities and treasures that lie before him. Throughout the film, heavy-handed comparisons are made between this BAFTA-winning actor and Odysseus, the legendary Greek hero who suffered a long arduous journey that cruelly kept him from home. However, it’s an increasingly cringing comparison as one after another delectable dish is laid before a blasé Coogan. In this setting, his self-important jibes about Brydon being a “light entertainer” while bragging about his own successes has lost its charm.
The Trip to Greece delivers exactly what fans of the franchise have come to expect. There’s lusty leering at beautiful young women, which the film treats as visual spectacle more worthy of screentime than the Greek landscapes or cuisine. There are maudlin meanderings about history, love, careers, and the agony of mortality. Then there’s comedy, through biting barbs, frustrating photo shoots and–of course–the signature string of dueling impressions. This time, there’s a battle of Dustin Hoffmans, as opposed to Michael Caines. The competitive comedians also deliver impersonations of Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, and even Godzilla. Then, there’s the Laurel and Hardy bit; Coogan reprises his acclaimed Stan Laurel performance from Stan and Ollie, while Brydon plays Tom Hardy, the intense actor who never met an unintelligible accent he didn’t love. It sounds funny. But in execution, both this bit and the trip becomes more tedious than entertaining. It’s as if both the stars and their audience are going through the motions, unsure why the thrill is gone.
Perhaps to combat this monotony, Winterbottom folds in something sharply topical by having the pair meet an activist that leads them to a prison-like refugee camp. It’s a solemn moment in the film, but also one so swiftly passed that it becomes a cynical setup for mocking the shallowness of its joke-cracking heroes. Perhaps this section is meant to remind audiences of the bigger world of troubles beyond the beauty and comedy of this trip, like the calls from home. However, it’s hard to get a feel for their journey when Winterbottom’s final cut is as choppy as the Grecian waves hammering a towering cliff side. There’s little flow to this film, and perhaps that’s the point. Maybe we’re meant to laugh and feel frustrated and flummoxed by this jarring journey. The Trip movies were never really about getting away, as each carried with it the baggage of its characters. So, maybe we’re not meant to escape through The Trip To Greece, but instead to feel as unsatisfied by this film’s venture as its heroes seem to be.
If so, cheers to all involved I guess. Your point was made. It was sometimes funny and often boring. As is life?