As I watched The Trip to Spain this morning, the terrorist attacks upon Spain were still fresh in mind. Not to be blithe about it, but we all process tragedy in our own individual ways, and for me, watching this very funny comedy offered a bit of a respite from the many horrors of the past day.
In part, that’s because Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are remarkably funny people who can conjure up laughter from even a faint glimmer of a humorous idea. This film is the third installment in a series, following from The Trip and The Trip to Italy, all condensed from television shows that ran for six episodes each and all directed by Michael Winterbottom.
Coogan and Brydon play fictional versions of themselves. In The Trip, their relationship was friendly, yet quite feisty as they endeavored to top each other in every way, perhaps most notably in their comic impressions. In The Trip to Italy, they appeared to find common ground more often, displaying less of a competitive spirit.
Now in The Trip to Spain, they share more of their common experiences as middle-aged men who are dealing with the realities of the aging process. Both exercise to remain physically fit, and do not engage in any riotous behavior, beyond the vigorous comic impressions that continue without letup.
Here’s it’s not just “dueling [Michael] Caines,” but also Anthony Hopkins, Mick Jagger, Sean Connery, and on and on. Apparently improvised on the spot, these friendly duels are frequently hilarious.
Rather than focus on the food — Brydon is supposedly reviewing the restaurants for The New York Times — Winterbottom sticks to the relationship between the men and the contrast in their situations. Brydon remains a happy family man, with his wife and two children supplying his anchor in life. Coogan remains unhappy; he’s still in love with Mischa (Margo Stilley), even though she is now married, to the point that he’s not engaging in one-night stands during the trip, as he did in the past.
The men do not share their personal or family issues, nor their business issues with each other, except in generalities. (Coogan, for example, is trying to get his latest script made, while Brydon discovers, without trying, that he’s become the target of an ambitious talent manager.) Over the course of the three films in the series, we’ve gotten an increasingly greater sense of these characters and their motivations: what drives them forward, what leaves them disappointed.
The increasing poignance makes the hilarity that much more appreciated. Rather than succumb entirely to sour turns in life, they continually fight back to remain balanced, using humor as a tool to bolster themselves.
As familiar as the premise has become, Coogan, Brydon and Winterbottom continue to keep the material and the twists and turns fresh, which makes The Trip to Spain an especially timely comedy.
The film is now playing at the Landmark Magnolia in Dallas.