There is something whimsical about two friends traveling together in a foreign country. You get to taste exotic cuisine, enjoy the gorgeous scenery and flirt with the beautiful locals. For comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, it’s their third jaunt in director Michael Winterbottom’s trilogy known as “The Trip” films. Their journeys are an acquired taste for an elite class that enjoys the finer things in life. These are two privileged white men in their mid-fifties. They have attained a level of success in their careers that provides them an affluent lifestyle. The travel series works since the audience gets to eavesdrop on their conversations like voyeurs. Louis Malle’s 1981 classic ‘My Dinner with Andre’ proved that it is possible to make a film with interesting banter and good food. On its third go-around, ‘The Trip to Spain’ hits the spot for another enjoyable adventure.
You might be asking yourself, what’s so fascinating about two guys talking while eating food? It has to do with their dry wit and their self-awareness of celebrity that makes it deviously funny. Coogan and Brydon are playing fictionalized characters of themselves. Coogan is the aging womanizer that appears to be lonely in his never-ending bachelorhood while Brydon seems to be happy as the doting middle-aged father. Brydon utters, “Fifty is in many ways the best age. It’s the sweet spot. You’ve still got time.” Coogan chimes in, “We’re ripe fruit. If you hang on the branch any longer you’re going to wither and die.” Those tidbits of wisdom make their trips memorable. In a sense, they’re saying everybody gets old so why not take the time to stop and smell the roses. They both see their 50s as being in the prime of their life. As they explore ancient towns, age is on their mind.
As the cuisine sizzles in the kitchen, the two sit across from each other as if they are in a sparring match. They toss verbal jabs at each other and begin a humorous volley of impressions. There is a witty exchange of Michael Caine. Coogan does an excellent Mick Jagger doing Shakespeare while Brydon kills it as Roger Moore in a “less is more” routine about the Moors. Other impressions include Marlon Brando, John Hurt, Humphrey Bogart, Woody Allen and Anthony Hopkins. There is even a bit where Coogan dresses up as Don Quixote and Brydon plays his loyal friend Sancho Panza on horseback. When they drive off to another small town in a Range Rover, they sing to “The Windmills of Your Mind” sung by the son of Harrison. No, not George Harrison but Rex Harrison’s son Noel. Sure, the tapas and paella look delectable but it’s not really all about the food. It’s about these two guys trapped in midlife trying to capture another existential experience together.
Between the jokes and the impressions, a bit of melancholy seems to slip through the cracks. It seems like they are trying to hold on to something. Is it their lost youth? In one scene, Coogan tries to communicate to an attractive barmaid in Spanish regarding his Oscar nominations for the movie ‘Philomena’ while Brydon makes goofy faces on a Skype call to his two-year old son. Between trying to one-up each other with factoids about their current destination, they spend time reflecting on their youth. That’s what makes the Spain installment distinct from the others. They are wondering where their careers will take them from here. They worry about whether they have already reached the highest peak in their lives. It may not hit a chord with everyone but the film has an astute understanding of male friendship.
As usual, it’s the delicious meals, the great scenery and the witty banter that keeps you returning for another travelogue. Now that the two leads are in their early fifties, it casts Coogan and Brydon in a different light. Their characters are evolving as they face the harsh reality of midlife. They confront their insecurities. They make their living in an industry that idolizes youth. They are determined to remain funny and vibrant with every joke and impersonation they hurl across the dinner table. ‘The Trip to Spain’ is an acquired taste but for many it still hits the spot.