Two old friends embark on a vacation across Spain, stopping for delectable cuisine, discussing culture and history, while telling jokes and doing impressions.
I generally like Steve Coogan. Though I haven’t seen the Alan Partidge television show, I stumbled upon the 2013 “Alan Partidge” movie a few years back and was delightfully surprised. He’s had a few other roles that I remember him for (“Hamlet 2”, “Tropic Thunder”) but he’s probably best known for writing, producing, and starring in “Philomena” (2013), a film for which he was received two Oscar nominations, something he makes a point of mentioning multiple times throughout this movie (with increasing hilarity every time). I’m relatively unfamiliar with Rob Brydon’s work, but in skimming his IMDb page I did find he’d been in a couple of movies I’d seen- most recently he voiced characters in “Early Man” (2018).
There isn’t much of a storyline here, essentially Steve and Rob decide to go on a road trip; something they’ve done a few times before. This was originally a BBC TV show, and I guess there was a movie preceding this one called “The Trip to Italy” (2014). I was honestly unaware of any such series or film before I started this one (I stumbled upon this the same way I did upon Alan Partrigde, just skimming Netflix while looking for something humorous). However, no prior knowledge of either the Italy trip or the show is necessary to enjoying this trip as well, though, perhaps knowledge of their style of humor would help. The film starts with Steve calling Rob and asking if he’d like to go on a trip; Rob agrees and the two embark on their journey, stopping at various restaurants and passing by historical places along the way.
One thing that should be noted is that there isn’t a credited writer on this film (at least on IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes). From what I can tell, 99% of the dialogue is improvised, and most of the story- even the conflicts (though they are small)- seem to be based on whatever the actors were going through at the time of the filming. I’ve seen this tried before, though more in sketch TV shows than films, and it usually comes with varying degrees of success. This film is much the same way. There are some scenes that are extremely funny, and other scenes that border on annoyingly lengthy and cringe-worthy. Much of the dialogue between the two leads feels incredibly natural (probably because it is). It feels much like dropping in on multiple conversations between two very good old friends who know each other inside and out. They know each other’s sense of humor, and even when it doesn’t always work for the viewer, it’s easy to see they’re still having a good time.
This film had notes of “Tampopo” (1985); there are dozens of shots depicting the cooking of different cuisines and dishes, all of which produce more mouthwatering than Pavlov’s dogs. I would urge you not to watch this film on an empty stomach, as doing so would be torture. If you’re a fan of cooking documentaries like Netflix’s Chef’s Table or movies like “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, then this film would be something you’d probably enjoy.
Cinematography is another thing that is pretty impressive here. For the most part, the film is just conversations that take place at tables, but the cinematography takes his camera around the various restaurants and cities our two heroes visit. As the camera lingers on average people from all over Spain, the film transcends a simple cooking documentary and becomes a phenomenal cultural experience. The shots of food are all wonderful, as I mentioned above, but what really grabbed me about this movie was the richness of the world around them that they director took the time to develop.
While the film doesn’t have much in terms of large character arcs (Steve Coogan has a small arc), it does give you plenty of time to get to know these people, and get to like them too. It paints a picture of where each of these people is in their lives. Brydon is married and has children; he’s secure in where he is, and he’s happy for his friend’s successes. Coogan, having just come off of “Philomena”, is a little cocky and sure of himself, but as the film goes on we see that for what it really is: a success that he can thrust before himself to cover his insecurities about being middle aged and still single. He has sort of a midlife crisis, but it’s not overly dramatic or clichéd. This sort of character development is extremely subtle but it makes the film feel very Cinema Verite.
There’s a lot to like about this movie: it’s sense of humor, it’s appreciation of culture and cuisine, the way the characters play off each other, but it’s also not a film I would fault anybody for not liking. There are times when Coogan and Brydon’s dialogue should’ve been trimmed, where gags went on too long, but overall, the experience of dinning with them as they travel across Spain was remarkably enjoyable. I enjoyed this enough to make a point to watch “The Trip to Italy”, though when that’ll happen, I can’t really say. If you like Coogan, Brydon, food, or travel, this film is a good way to spend an hour and forty-five minutes.
Best Motion Picture of the Year and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay 2013… there I go with those stupid footnotes again…
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