It almost seems cruel for Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Greece to be coming out now with COVID-19 still wreaking havoc in the world and tourism at a standstill. Like the three previous The Trip movies, this one stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as fictional versions of themselves on a culinary/cultural tour of a corner of Europe. Like the three other films, it is designed to send the viewer scurrying to guidebooks and travel sites to follow in the actors’ footsteps. For now, any plans to turn those dreams into reality are delayed. Visceral adventure is all that is available.
At least, Coogan, Brydon, and their director deliver the goods in what Winterbottom is calling the series’ final installment. This time the premise is that The Observer has once again hired Coogan to write an article, this time sending him to follow the route laid out in Homer’s The Odyssey, beginning in what is now Turkey and traveling through Greece. Brydon’s observes tartly that Odysseus’ journey back to Ithaca in the ancient epic took 10 years, while he and Coogan are devoting only six days to their CliffsNotes’ version of the trek.
However compact the trip, the odd acting couple pack in a lot of incident. If Greece has a bad angle, it is not apparent from this film. Traveling by car and sometimes boat, Coogan and Brydon take in azure seas, verdant countryside, and sleek cities. When they are not indulging in gastronomical delights, they walk in the steps of the ancients. Among the sites the pair visits are Athens’ agora, the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, the Caves of Diros, and the Theatre of Epidaurus.
What is surprising about this film as The Trip series reaches its finish line is its tone. Oh, there is still plenty of humor and celebrity impressions – a highlight is Coogan and Brydon offering competing versions of the torture scene between Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man. Coogan remains dedicated to proving his superior intellect, even as Brydon gently chides him with his own displays of knowledge. Coogan is still a heat-seeking missile of all-consuming ambition. Fresh off his BAFTA-nominated success as comedian Stan Laurel in Stan and Ollie, now he has his heart set on a part in La La Land director Damian Chazelle’s latest film. The more family-oriented Brydon continues to be content with his lot in life as a character actor.
But with all that, The Trip to Greece is scarcely a comedy. Coogan is in a different place in his life and the film takes a melancholy turn as he absorbs news from home. The situation transforms his dreams into vivid, surreal nightmares. He is often distracted in his interactions with Brydon. And for all the ways the series has portrayed Coogan as the completely self-involved one, Brydon never asks the reason Coogan is so often on the phone with his son Joe (Timothy Leach).
Some will carp at this turn from humor, but The Trip to Greece is the most resonant of the quartet of films. Lost among all the praise for Coogan and Brydon’s dueling Michael Caines and other impressions is the fact their very performances are impressions – of themselves. At last, Coogan and, to a certain extent, Brydon emerge as deeper, more complex characters and the film is the richer for it. If this really is the end of The Trip‘s road, the series takes its final bow on a satisfying note. Now, if only the rest of us could take our own Greek vacations. –Pam Grady
The Trip to Greece is available in select theaters and all major digital/cable platforms.