Movie Review: ‘THE TRIP TO SPAIN’ – The Men of La Muncha

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

THE TRIP TO SPAIN
NR, 1h 48min
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Steve CooganRob BrydonMarta Barrio, Claire Keelan

Director Michael Winterbottom’s THE TRIP franchise is cinematic comfort food, nourishing our souls with beauty, laughter and reflection. The continuing British docuseries (which gets repackaged as a feature when it crosses the pond) also doubles as an impeccably shot travelogue of foodie paradises. THE TRIP TO SPAIN, our third outing with beloved travel companions Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, is perhaps the more contemplative offering in the franchise, offering wit and wisdom on the deconstruction of comedy, food, and what it means to be middle-aged. Come for the spot-on impressions and Quixotic adventure. Stay for the company – and a bit of the unexpected.

Unlike THE TRIP TO ITALY, we return to dynamic of the original THE TRIP, where it’s Steve who rings Rob to instigate the travel plans. He’s writing a book chronicling a trip he did in his youth – one that took him from Santander in the north of Spain to Malaga in the south. However, this time around it will be a far different trek (both physically and emotionally) as he’s looking backward rather than forward. With now-settled family man Rob to accompany him, writing restaurant reviews for the Observer, the pair reunite and the results are simply delectable.

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in THE TRIP TO SPAIN. Courtesy of IFC Films.

There are a multitude of parallels with Cervates’ Don Quixote – the obvious connection being two men bumbling around Spain. Coogan and Brydon even discuss the literary figures a few times, debating who fits best in the realist and dreamer roles. You can easily spot who’s faithful sidekick Sancho Panza and who’s Quixote through their highly-nuanced interactions. They also dress up as Quixote and Panza for a photoshoot with gal pals Emma (Claire Keelan) and Yolanda (Marta Barrio), who once again serve as the feminine energy side dish.

A beguiling, subtle melancholy is baked into this third course, where the food porn almost takes a back seat to their neuroses. Coogan’s career anxieties manifest in dreams of false futures, one where Oscar gold and romantic happiness are within reach. Brydon’s biggest inner conflict – one that’s dealt short shrift – is weighing whether or not to sign with Coogan’s American agent, who recently dropped Brydon’s bestie as his client. There’s a resigned nature to the dynamic duo reluctantly integrating fitness into their holiday (something they’ve never shown in the previous films), assuming so they can still feast like gluttons and keep their minds nimble for the comedic repartee. The way the two chums relate to one another deepens further. There’s a moment where a street busker unknowingly upsets Coogan and only a best friend like Brydon could understand the reasons why.

The comedy, though, is what keeps us coming back for more. The heightened versions of themselves that Brydon and Coogan are playing constantly impress. Their affectionate ribbing and riffing off one another is like watching a tennis match between two greats. From David Bowie on Twitter, to Mick Jagger at a party (in which Coogan’s imitation wins hands down), to James Bond eating scallops, to Roger Moore’s history lesson on the Moors, it’s easy to get caught up in their impressions and random improvisations. Plus, their evergreen go-to Michael Caine impression continues to brilliantly snowball.

Despite the ending being a bit of an abrupt head-scratcher (an unbecoming trait for the franchise), THE TRIP TO SPAIN is a satisfying entree that will have your stomachs roaring with hunger for more.

Grade: B-

THE TRIP TO SPAIN is now playing in limited release.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.