Few could have guessed that a simple BBC travelogue series that followed two British comedians riffing and doing Michael Caine impressions would take off, but the Trip movies have been a comforting part of our pop culture landscape for the past decade. Like a warm blanket. Or a nicely grilled scallop. For 10 years, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have been traveling across Europe, feasting on local delicacies while exchanging hilarious banter and ponderous musings about life and aging. It’s a formula that has worked for the past three movies, and which director Michael Winterbottom repeats again with a heavier dose of melancholy in The Trip to Greece.
The Trip to Greece comes three years after the last installment of the franchise, 2017’s The Trip to Spain, and picks up with Coogan and Brydon after they have already begun their latest restaurant stint for the Observer, starting off in Turkey to recreate the journey that Odysseus took in Homer’s epic poem. Already there is an air of a farewell tour to the film, which Coogan, Brydon, and Winterbottom confirmed will be the last one in the series. As Coogan and Brydon move through their greatest hits of impressions — their fan-favorite Michael Caine bit shows up for a flash after they seemingly retired the bit in The Trip to Spain — the two of them laugh easier and joke more comfortably. Coogan, though still egotistical and fame-hungry, has loosened up around Brydon, who he treats more like an irksome friend than a nuisance. And Brydon takes all of Coogan’s prickly moments in stride, having spent the better part of 10 years being the butt of his jokes. The two seem more at ease with their lot in life, with both of them well on the other side of 50 and being satisfied with what they’ve accomplished — Brydon with his lovely family, and Coogan with his (as he often repeats it) seven BAFTAs.
“I do think as you get older it’s inevitable that you repeat yourself,” Brydon remarks in a fun meta nod to the overall series, which is by no means reinventing the wheel. The Trip to Greece is the definition of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and in uncertain times like these, a certainty like this is sorely needed. Cooger and Brydon break into their impressions without any precursor, running through their greatest hits of Roger Moore, Woody Allen, Dustin Hoffman, Marlon Brando, Mick Jagger, and more — with a few new Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ray Winstone, and Werner Herzog impressions joining the fray. We need no introduction for them to launch into a five-minute Bond bit, because we’ve seen it before and we never get tired of watching the two of them try to one-up each other.
But there is an undercurrent of melancholy to The Trip to Greece which feels far stronger than in their past outings. To quote another sunny, meandering movie where two people do little more than eat and talk in Greece, “This place is full of thousands of years of myth and tragedy, and I thought something tragic is going to happen.” The comparison to the Before trilogy is apt — The Trip series has been Winterbottom, Coogan, and Brydon’s own meditation on the passage of time, albeit one with a few more running gags and jokes. Coogan and Brydon use the series to show off their impressions, but also to deconstruct the perception of fame — Coogan, the more famous of the two, spends the films grasping for more renown while often getting the raw end of the deal when it comes to love and relationships. Brydon has his own marital ups and downs, but often ends the films a far sight happier than Coogan does.
Coogan’s existential struggles this time around come in the form of his sick father (Richard Clews), which hangs like a dark cloud over most of the film. Steve’s now 23-year-old son Joe (Timothy Leach) calls Coogan in the middle of his trip to inform him that his dad has been taken to the hospital, and Coogan starts to brood more than usual — his vivid re-enacted dreams, which are an entertaining staple of this series, taking the form of Greek tragedies and Ingmar Bergman films as he worries over his father’s health. It’s this added gloom to the film that breaks up some of the formula of The Trip to Greece — all the other Trip films have seen Coogan (and one time, Brydon) have one-night stands with several waitresses and hotel hostesses during their journeys, but he falls back into bed with their longtime photographer Yolanda (Marta Barrio) a tad more wistfully this time, their affair given an added sheen of romance as we see them kiss (for the first time onscreen!) under a sky full of fireworks.
Winterbottom approaches this film with an awareness that this is the end of the road for the bickering British comedians, delivering sweeping drone shots of the sunny Greek coasts, and drool-worthy scenes of the delectable seafood that Brydon and Coogan dig into. It’s operatic and wistful, but with that tongue-in-cheek humor you know and love — one shot of Brydon and Coogan racing through the ocean is a majestic birds-eye view of the two of them looking like they’re floundering in the water. Like the Greek heroes that the two of them are emulating, The Trip to Greece is a bittersweet end to Brydon and Coogan’s odyssey.
/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10