The Trip To Italy – La Dolce Eata. (Film Review)

The Trip to ItalyThe trip to Italy opens in Sydney on the 29th of May 2014

Not being familiar with the previous incarnations of the Coogan/Brydon/Winterbottom food porn series, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into the cinema to see The Trip To Italy, though I was pleasantly surprised to find it was an enjoyable and extremely funny hour and forty minutes. The Trip, the television series that became a film in 2010 was a sleeper success, so this is the more lauded celebrated second version, touted at the start of the film by Steve Coogan to be a likely flop as all “second albums” inevitably are. It’s an all-inclusive comment that we white middle class are all familiar with, a cocky “I got in there before you” attitude shrouded in a faux self-consciousness. But that’s the comedic style of Coogan, cerebral without being too clever, wrapping his arms around a group making the transition from youth to middle (read older) age too familiar with pop psychology to deny their mid-life crises exists, but too cool to act it out. There exists a melancholic longing in The trip to Italy as two men in their late forties come to terms with the dull aching sadness that mid-term wisdom of life leaves in its wake; when you realise a beautiful day, fine food and good company are really, as good as it is ever going to get. The sublimated wistful wisdom depicts this longing far better than the glued on sub plots, designed to round out character arcs, that really don’t do much for the film rather than give rough context and a characterisation we immediately know to be false, but for the most part, these two very funny men in the lap of the idealised white lifestyle, exhibit an ill-defined yearning that might be the realisation of passing youth or the approach of old age or merely the fact that what once defined them no longer can. If laughter masks pain, then The Trip to Italy is a masterclass in the across-the-table witty banter of adults finding they have less a grasp on the world in their forties than they ever imagined they had in their early twenties. In some ways, it’s the dream of this lifestyle that is lost, and in that the subverted lamentations of the pair are a very Italian, with a good dose of nervous British wit to mask all that gloom.

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As far as food and scenery go, The Trip to Italy glides on the same non stick surface that is the staple of so many of these cooking/food/travel shows – that of the impossibly perfect view combined with the impossibly perfect meal that is all impossibly perfectly paid for by someone else. Money makes absolutely no appearance except at the start when Brydon phones Coogan to inform him that The Observer was going to fund the trip, and all they had to do was “be witty at dinner.” It’s kept out of the way like those other tacky view-spoilers, poverty or a eurozone Crisis. The two comedians slip their way around Italy in their Italian Job inspired mini, singing to Alanis Morisette and repeating various impersonations, which despite their appearance in the first series, remain fresh and hilarious. Dreams of an Italy lost forever, a la The Great Beauty live in the memory of the magnificent hotels they sleep in and the stunning waterways and islands they travel to, and yet the underlying melancholy of the men themselves equally speaks to a certain kind of loss, so that the tourist relationships they forge for us with Italy doesn’t occur as patronising, rather a cry in unison that forges a solidarity. Even if they visit these places of great luxury, they are and remain voyeuristic vacationists, constantly aware of their luck and good fortunes, using their piercing wit to somehow make it through to the end of another day. They are not burdened by tedium, they are burdened by their own foolishness and new-found maturity, flitting between appreciation and joke at their own expense, a refinement that endears the men as we move further through the film.

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And this is why The trip to Italy works. Because they constantly poke fun at themselves. They wonder equally what the hell they know about food just as much as they wonder what they are doing in the face of so much endless beauty. Coogan and Brydon are convincingly reticent when confronted with the majesty of the words of Byron and Shelly, palatial homes or crystalline waterways, though subtle in their approach tentatively absorbing the world around them. James Clarke as director of photography, chosen for his mutual experience of food themed television shows and Winterbottom films, brings a natural almost documentary style to the kitchens he examines, separate from the action of the protagonists, while filming Brydon and Coogan in the calmest of stills, letting the camera rest on their faces, their views and their meals. The entire film has the feel of a lazy afternoon on a still beach with a fine white wine, great food and wonderful company, and there is no problem spending a couple of hours in that.

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