Film Review – Brit buddies charm in ‘Trip to Spain’

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By Editor Terry Hagerty

If you walk into director Michael Winterbottom’s film “The Trip to Spain” and don’t know the background of the comic actors – or haven’t seen their two other buddy ‘Trip’ films – you won’t have two strikes against you. There’s still plenty of visual/aural fun on which to hang one’s hat, or palate. British actors/writers Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, who play partially fictionalized versions of themselves, star in a fun twist on two friends taking a lengthy trip through gorgeous Spain, enjoying the food, scenery and conversation. Ah yes – the conversations. A good part of the duo’s restaurant dialogue is more a ping-pong match of impersonations of famous people – from Mick Jagger to Michael Caine and Roger Moore. Funny stuff, especially Coogan’s flapping-arms-while-speaking take on Jagger. All the while, they are being served some of Spain’s best culinary offerings. (I was curious how the restaurant scenes were accomplished, with the boisterous Brits being filmed amidst much quieter patrons. Must have been a lot of pre-production arrangements by film producers with restaurant owners?) And I digress to perhaps a snively, whiny point: Brydon’s prolonged vocal impersonation of Moore (‘James Bond’) at the dinner table, a verbal play on “the Moors” lasting impact on Spanish history, goes a bit too long, especially with other guests at the table. Overall, a minor complaint, though. Also, when the two become quite loud in table conversation at restaurants, it seems their polite fellow diners counter with no grimaces – perhaps through film editing? Some reviewers have made the pertinent point that the film’s several dragged-out impersonations are metaphors for the duo’s own weariness, in the film, as they encounter middle-to-old age. However, Brydon’s impersonation of being tortured ‘on the rack’ in the Spanish Inquisition is hilarious.

As happens in any travel venture, where you go and what you leave out, due to time constraints, comes into play. In an excellent scene, a musical busker offers his advice to the duo on the must-see places in Spain, all of which the duo has/or will apparently bypass. They land in Santander in northern Spain, bordering the Atlantic, then make their way to the Rioja wine region and down south into Spain’s interior, touching the Mediterranean coast on the way. This reviewer was hoping for a stop anywhere in the Pyrenees, with vistas of deep green and gold meadows and icy-blue lakes, set against 11,000-feet peaks. Hey, you can’t go everywhere! Much of the other fabulous views show interior and southern Spain to be the mainly semi-arid region it is – brown desiccated vistas, but still strikingly beautiful.

It’s obvious Coogan’s and Brydon’s characters have an abiding friendship. Coogan is a somewhat frustrated, though successful, screenwriter. Brydon is an accomplished comedian who loves his family. There are some touching moments as Brydon first says goodbye to, and later greets his two children and wife on return home. Coogan’s personal  life is a bit more upended and lonely. There is a scene near the end where Brydon has departed, headed back to merry England, and Coogan, now by himself, has turned his gaze to the beatific scenery from another restaurant balcony. It’s the precious photograph of an aging male, who although he has had a materially comfortable life till now, faces the fourth quarter of the game, apparently by himself. And the ending is a curveball neither he, nor the audience expects. (Viewing note: Film seen at Austin’s Violet Crown, one of Austin’s most comfortable/unique theaters. And… there’s four hours of free parking with a stamped parking ticket.)