“We should enjoy this moment. We’re in the sweet spot in our lives.”
So the two middle-aged men—Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, once again playing exaggerated versions of their public personas—try to convince themselves early on in The Trip to Spain. This third installment in the series goes on to slyly detail how that statement is and isn’t true—and how the men delude themselves about it in various ways.
Following The Trip and The Trip to Italy, this entry follows the two British actors/comedians as they visit various restaurants across Spain. Coogan’s career and romantic anxieties are back at the fore, after a brief flirtation with contentment in The Trip to Italy. Here he’s desperately grasping for a last chance at love, though in a doomed direction, while sadly touting his Oscar nominations for Philomena to anyone who will listen. Smart, funny, yet witheringly insecure, Coogan’s defining scene may be the one where he invites a street busker to join him and Brydon at an outdoor cafe, only to abruptly leave when the busker proves to know more about the best Spanish restaurants than he does (not a difficult task).
Brydon, meanwhile, finds a more realistic balance between the domestic bliss he represented in the first film and the impulsive marital betrayal he enacted in the second. Now the father of two children, including a screaming baby, he accepts Coogan’s invitation to get away with an exasperated, “Yes!” At the same time, his calls back home to his wife (Rebecca Johnson) and children have an unforced warmth and familial happiness.
Brydon should count himself lucky that he found someone willing to live with a person who speaks in celebrity impressions about 60 percent of the time. These are peppered throughout The Trip to Italy, with the highlights this time being Mick Jagger (Coogan’s exclamatory hand clap had me guffawing) and David Bowie (their Bowie-off here rivals their competitive Michael Caine impressions from The Trip). I have begun to feel sorry for Marta Barrio and Claire Keelan, playing the photographer and assistant, respectively, who have had to show up at a dinner for three films now and giggle politely during Coogan and Brydon’s goofing. It’s far better when these two ridiculously domineering men are stuck at a table with only each other, making fools of themselves.
Winterbottom provides a wonderfully balanced diet of foodie close-ups and travelogue landscapes.
Director Michael Winterbottom also returns, once again providing a wonderfully balanced diet of foodie close-ups and travelogue landscapes—a micro and macro yin and yang that breaks up the many medium shots of restaurant tables. Winterbottom also takes the film to a new and intriguing place in its ambiguously ominous final moments. I won’t reveal details, except to note that some of the dinner conversation throughout the movie has touched on Spain’s Moorish/Muslim history, a history that becomes suddenly contemporary in the last seconds. In a deft move, The Trip to Spain takes the personal anxieties of two affluent, aging men and extrapolates them, until they come to represent anxiety on a global scale. It’s a funny little foodie movie that also exhibits a stomach-churning apprehension over the East’s emerging relationship with the West.