If you have seen the Night At the Museum films, Around the World in 80 Days (2004), Philomena (2013) or Stan & Ollie (2018), you have seen English actor Steve Coogan. Usually he plays some sort of stuffy, abrasive character, but in The Trip to Greece, he plays a fictionalize version of himself. Coogan and English comedian Rob Brydon have starred in four Trip films, playing themselves as they travel, eat great meals and act like dueling comedians.
The first film, The Trip (2010), was actually a multi-episode series for British television and edited into a film released worldwide. It was an odd film, you never quite knew whether it was real or a put-on. The plot involved Coogan being hired to write an article about a restaurant. Coogan’s girlfriend does not want to go, so he takes pal Brydon on the automobile trip. This gives them a chance to do funny impressions (Michael Caine, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Sean Connery), discuss life and generally act like adolescents. It is not really a travelogue, but the scenery is nice as they drive the English countryside. In each of these four films, they eat and drink extremely well. The films are a bit of gourmet food event. Along the way, these guys detour into some brief affairs with women they meet. Coogan seems somewhat vain, continually on edge about his career and love life, needing reassurances on both. Brydon is more settled, more comfortable in his life. These are the characters you see, how much of it is real, that’s up to you to wonder.
The second film was The Trip to Italy (2014), where Brydon is commissioned to write an article roughly on a road trip from Piedmont to Capri, soaking up the beautiful scenery, staying at quaint hotels and gorging themselves on the finest goods and wine.
The third film, The Trip to Spain (2017) follows them revisiting a trip Coogan took in his youth. Again, food and the beautiful locales are inviting, but the focus is on the banter between Coogan and Brydon, as they cannot resist doing impressions and channeling it into entire vignettes.
By the time you get to The Trip to Greece, you feel like you have been on this trip before. On this trip, Brydon meets up with his wife toward the end, and Coogan must contend with the ill health of his father. Actors portray Coogan’s son and ex-wife, so you are never quite sure where the fiction begins and ends. The decision to semi-script the film with fictional characters and situations does make one wonder, why? It would be interesting if they wrote these as conventional films and stepped outside of themselves, but kept the semi-documentary feel.
In 10 years, the characters have aged, although their competitive dueling of impressions and witticisms is as strong as ever. These are like friends from college who meet up and instantly fall back into a combination of silliness and their worldly insights. Underneath the humor is a reoccurring reality of the darker side of life. As we age, we can be a bit morbid as we transition from immortality to our parents. Coogan makes the most physical change as his hair is long and dark in the first film and short and mostly gray in the fourth installment.
These films are an acquired taste. You might love the scenery, but are put-off by the wise-cracking and lengthy impersonations. I get it. The good thing about these trips, you have the option to stop and get off, or stay the course.