Michael Winterbottom’s, “The Trip to Italy”—a sequel to Winterbottoms “The Trip” from 2010—is an example of how minimalistic comedy can be done well.
It’s a road trip comedy—in which British actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play semi fictionalized versions of themselves—but nothing over-the-top or out of the ordinary happens. In fact the closest thing to “action” that happens is in a scene where the two are trying to navigate their way through Italian traffic. There are fragments of drama that could easily be expanded on and made into a plot but instead Winterbottom keeps the focus on the mundane, comedic interactions between Brydon and Coogan as they travel around the Italian countryside, staying in nice hotels and eating great food.
The picture is essentially Travelogue mixed with comedy. It’s a series of improvised back and fourths between the two actors, which gives the movie a relaxed, directionless energy. It helps immensely that the chemistry between Brydon and Coogan is impeccable. These two are not just actors in a movie asked to riff off one another, these are real friends who have decided to go on a trip together and riff on each another in the process, while someone films them with a camera.
However, while the movie may feel aimless and lacking in cohesion it isn’t. As the movie goes on and the two make their way from one luxurious Italian town or fine dining establishment to the next there’s a sense of progression; it doesn’t just feel like a bunch of comedic riff’s stitched together. And as silly as these comedic riffs can get--often times they turn into impression-offs between the two guys; Brydon for the record can do a great Al Pacino and Michael Caine—they address a variety of important topics, ranging from history and culture, to growing old and mortality. These are intelligent, as well as humorous dialogues. Oddly enough, the poet Lord Byron is a common topic.
At the same time, even when addressing these serious/heavy topics the comedic momentum stays in tact. The scene where Brydon--pretending to be Michael Buble—proceeds to fake interview Coogan is both an amusing dialogue as well as a chance for Coogan to genuinely reflect on his career and where it might go from here.
As I said before, various dramatic strands and conflicts are introduced throughout the movie. Coogan’s relationship with his teenage son since getting divorced from his wife, the minor disconnect between Brydon and his wife that leads to fling between him and a random British girl. Coogan’s career dissatisfaction, Brydon being offered his first serious role in an American movie, and so on. And while these strands get somewhat developed, they don’t become the focal point of the movie. They’re acknowledged but they’re also not neatly resolved by the end. Because of this style, you never know where the movie is going to go. It never gets caught up in the plot conventions characteristic of comedies. In the end “The Trip to Italy” is what it would be like if two characters from a more traditional comedy movie decided to take a break from the action and go on a trip together.
Like “The Trip,” “The Trip to Italy” is good film, but I’m not sure it’s one you need to drop everything and rush out to see. I didn’t end up seeing “The Trip” until just a couple months ago when I happened upon it on Netflix Instant. These are funny minimalistic movies, no doubt, but they’re good to watch in the comfort of your own home.