It’s both a blessing and a curse to be given a gift like THE TRIP TO GREECE in a time of lockdown. Director Michael Winterbottom’s country-spanning travelogue continues, evoking pleasure at seeing two witty comedians eat Michelin star meals and reflect on life, love and career. But it also evokes pain, not solely because this might be our friendly goodbye (side note: it’s never the final outing), but also with the crushing realization that, even without our current travel restrictions, we’ll likely never be able to luxuriate in these locations. Repeated viewings are an absolute must as you’ll be delighted and distracted by the scenery, wistfully wishing you were in these spectacular surroundings, maybe working through your own existential crisis. This fourth and allegedly final outing leads the men into new, untraveled territory for the series, while delivering a delectable cinematic dish.
We meet Rob (Brydon) and Steve (Coogan) already in progress, on the start of their travels and impending travails in Turkey as they prepare to retrace Odysseus’ journey home from Troy to Ithaca. Coogan’s publisher wants him to intertwine the legendary king’s ten year trek with his own life lived in the media’s spotlight – a quest that doubles as Winterbottom’s thematic reflection on the series’ decade-long tour. This time, however, the odyssey will be jammed into the span of six days and it’ll feature decadent cuisine, a Range Rover and Bee Gees tunes.
In between the warm familiarity of fan-favorite bits (like “Guess the bill,” “Man in the box” and their Tom Hardy and Mick Jagger impressions), Winterbottom and company elegantly finish the franchise’s fabric, weaving together its tapestry about masculinity, fathers and sons. Coogan’s career worries are eclipsed by familial priorities in this iteration – something towards which the other three TRIP films planted a breadcrumb trail. The sparse scenes involving Kareem (Kareem Alkabbani), with whom Coogan worked on a project, primarily serve as a reminder of Coogan’s narcissistic tendencies – providing his heightened portrayal an arc not solely for this film, but for the entire series. Odysseus fleeing Troy to go home parallels Coogan’s multi-movie journey, battling his ego and actor’s artifice, only to return to his family and the beauty of a vulnerable, egoless status.
Brydon’s sendoff is far more subtle than Coogan’s, materializing in the ever-developing narrative’s undercurrents. In the birthplace of drama, he’s ditched his prior dramatics involving marital and career complacency – a motor for his character in the previous TRIP films – in favor of unburdened freedom and blithe acceptance. Gal pals Emma (Claire Keelan) and Yolanda (Marta Barrio) are used in the same manner as before – their feminine energy serving as the garnish. But now there’s greater thematic depth explored with Brydon’s movie wife Sally (Rebecca Johnson) and Coogan’s ex-wife (Cordelia Bugeja). They don’t solely aid the male arcs, but rather enhance them, impacting the pair’s decisions in profound ways.
It’s not all praise. Mystifyingly, they still can’t figure out how to end the film, which is one of the more unbecoming traits of this franchise. For a cinematic chapter all about finding poignancy in our finality, it’s baffling the filmmakers didn’t hash out a more palatable end note. The abruptness leaves a bitter aftertaste.
Yet, when all is said and done (or maybe not done, given the open ending), it’s genuinely moving to view this film as a full-circle moment for characters who have taken us on some amazing trips these past ten years.
THE TRIP TO GREECE is available in select theaters, digital and cable VOD on May 22.