The Trip to Italy hits you from three angles: the funny, the melancholic, and (this time around) the beautiful. Yes, The Trip to Italy is just as funny and serious as its predecessor The Trip was, but this time with added breathtaking scenery.
Like The Trip, this new piece is available as both a 6-episode TV series and as a full-length feature film. This review is of the television version, the longer one. The series is a Michael Winterbottom production and stars comedic actors and adlibbers Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. While much of it is clearly engineered plotwise, large portions of the dialogue are adlibbed by these two friends and opponents in wit and impression. The plot setup is that the Observer has hired Brydon to tour Italy and write lunch reviews, but this is a loose construction, giving Winterbottom an excuse to let the two comedians delight viewers with their verbal riffs.
They state at the beginning of the film that they are going to try not to do impressions throughout the trip, but naturally, that doesn’t last long. Brydon in particular spends more than half the series in other people’s voices, and Coogan can’t bear to stand by and not try to out-impersonate his traveling companion. If you think that the second edition of Michael Caine impressions floating around the internet when this sequel was announced is the height of the series, just wait until the Alanis Morsette sing-alongs, Tom Hardy doing voice over commercials, cannibalism, Woody Allen impressions, and a glass-encased Mount Vesuvius victim with a small man in a box voice.
But lest you think Italy lacks the depth and foreboding of age that the first production displayed, also note two elderly Batmans sitting down together and looking back at their lives. As you listen to them talk, you realize that Coogan and Brydon may well do this movie every couple of years until they really are that old. They are in their mere mid-forties, but act as if they’ve come to the end of their lives. They wonder if they will be remembered. They think of a time when they will be on the slab, being dressed by a stranger. The gloom is helped along by the constant reciting of Lord Byron poetry by both of them. (There is a lot of Byron/Shelley/Keats historic footstep following in this one.) Luckily, this trip allows them to wake up a little and feel young again. Brydon, who isn’t getting any attention from his wife, has a misguided affair with a pirate lady, and Coogan, though responsibly trying to quit drinking and reconnect with his teenage son, goes after the photographer yet again.
Winterbottom did not skimp on the depth of this sequel, and the Coogan-Brydon duo brought at least just as much fun, skill, and humor. If you liked The Trip, you’ll love The Trip to Italy.