It’s a bit surprising that the Trip movies have made it to four installments. What started as a pretty niche project for stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon and director Michael Winterbottom (whose varied and unpredictable filmography has straightened out somewhat in recent years) has become a surprisingly dependable and unified saga. I’m not in the business of telling you that it’s like the Avengers of middle-aged British actors eating pan-seared scallops by the sea, but that’s basically where we find ourselves when The Trip to Greece begins.
Purportedly the last film in the series (something I find hard to believe, especially considering that the film has more or less ignored the previous installment’s Twilight Zone-ish gag ending), The Trip to Greece finds Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon once again paired up for an all-expenses-paid trip through the Greek countryside. As always, the trip is meant to spearhead a series of high-falutin’ tourism articles piggybacking on their relative fame, but neither Coogan nor Brydon seem particularly concerned with the work this time around. Coogan continues to fret about his career — an acclaimed turn in Stan & Ollie seems to have done little for the serious-actor phase of his life — while Brydon’s wannabe-cad ways have eroded, leaving him homesick and worried about his wife and kids.
As always, The Trip to Greece is relatively plotless, mainly constructed around lengthy conversational improvisations between Coogan and Brydon. As always, celebrity impressions are a frequent topic of conversation, as are intellectual dick-wagging contests as Coogan, desperate to be taken seriously in every possible sphere of his existence, chides and chastizes Brydon for not dropping knowledge about the ancient Greeks at every opportunity. The lightly aggressive friendship between the two has always been a central theme of the Trip films. Both insist that they barely tolerate each other, but by the fourth film, the viewer becomes increasingly convinced that they may be each other’s only friend.
If the three previous installments have been about Brydon and (especially) Coogan vehemently denying their move towards middle age (be it by constantly arguing for their own continued relevance or picking up women to prove something to themselves or the other), The Trip to Greece finds them firmly entrenched in what they feared most. Death, irrelevance and the absence of “boring” comfort hang over the laddish Coogan, who has spent the last 10 years making decisions like a young man with little to show for it in the long run. (Of course, even the fictional Coogan’s success, which mirrors his real-life career more or less to a T, hangs like an albatross around his neck. What’s the point of doing something good if it doesn’t lead to doing something better immediately after?)
It sounds heavy and I suppose it is, to some extent. For how loose and genial and undeniably hilarious these films have always been, they’ve also been infused with a melancholy that now bubbles up to the surface rather obviously. Brydon and Coogan have never been this dismissive about the beauty around them. Previous films had them rave about the plates set in front of them, which are now consumed half-assedly between two competing Marlon Brando impressions. The films have always been a send-up of privilege to some extent, but now the protagonists seem consumed by it, forever trying to clamber on top of expectations they’ve set upon themselves.
It may be an unnecessarily portentous way to look at what is ultimately another choice installment in one of the great hangout-movie series in recent memory. The incredible ease with which Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan slip back into these heightened, egotistical versions of themselves makes even the most melancholic beats of The Trip to Greece a pleasure. It’s mainly a fans-only affair, however. I find it hard to imagine how someone who hasn’t seen the previous films could really grapple with what’s going on here — quality impressions or not. ■
The Trip to Greece is on VOD now.
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