Midway through The Trip to Spain, the endless impressions and relentless banter tossed back and forth between Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon stop eliciting riotous laughter and begin drumming up weary sighs. But while this may sound like a failing of the film, the third chapter in a series whose appeal is founded almost entirely on the pair's winning repartee, it's actually a terribly interesting turn. As the energy of the audience drains over the course of a two-hour week with the exhausting comic duo, it becomes exceedingly clear that these characters may not be able to keep up with this schtick for much longer.
Seven years after The Trip and three after The Trip to Italy, Coogan and Brydon revive the form with a restaurant tour through Spain, dining predominantly on seafood and trading gags about Mick Jagger, Roger Moore, and the Inquisition. While Brydon seems to have matured beyond the adulterous eye that solidified his descent in the second film, Coogan wrestles ever still with the demons of self-dissatisfaction. On one hand, his relationship has hit a standstill, largely because his girlfriend is married to another man. On the other, his career hasn’t exactly blossomed of late, despite his having landed an Oscar nomination just a few years back (a fact that he’s eager to bring up at any given opportunity).
But nothing seems to weigh on Coogan quite as heavily as that one cross we all have to bear: age. On the cusp of his 50s, Coogan is desperate to prove to himself and everyone around him that he is still a vibrant source of comedy, passion, intellect, and life. Thus: phone calls to his agent demanding stronger promotion of his latest script, the frequent dropping of factoids about Spanish history, and his nonstop comedic competition with Brydon.
Though The Trip and Italy alike dropped hints that Coogan (and, to a lesser extent, Brydon) was beginning to fray beneath his clownish veneer, Spain turns the tides by actually prioritizing the melancholy over the humor. Yes, the humor still runs throughout, and is often as funny as anything we’ve seen in the preceding chapters (early in the film, Steve and Rob engage in a duet of David Bowie impressions that, while not exactly spot on, are nevertheless hysterical). In fact, this chapter addles Coogan with varyingly surreal dream sequences, some amounting to great laughs.
But as these laughs give way to tedium, and by no case of comedic misstep, we begin to see what The Trip to Spain is really trying to get at—perhaps what the Trip movies have been slowly but surely angling toward from the beginning. Behind the gags, the barbs, the wordplay, and the many, many impressions lurks a sadness that cannot stay hidden much longer. By definition, the pervasion of this theme may make The Trip to Spain the least funny of its brethren so far. But it also makes it the most interesting.
Rating: 4 out of 5:
Images: IFC Films
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor of Nerdist. Find Michael on Twitter @micarbeiter.