The Trip to Italy

the trip to italy

by John Ellis

Being a food/restaurant critic is very near the top of my list of all-time cool jobs. Except, if I were a food/restaurant critic, I wouldn’t be able to resist making sure the restaurant staff knew who I was and my purpose for being in their restaurant. I think that probably violates some sort of journalistic/reviewer ethics – I don’t know, maybe not? I do know that when I’m reviewing a concert, I make sure the people that are in attendance, including the band, know who I am and what I’m doing so that I’ll get lots of free CDs[1]. In a restaurant, though, the critic wants anonymity so that he or she receives the same food service as everyone else (I would think, but, once again, maybe I’m wrong). That being said, on top of the fact that it was a movie, albeit a largely improvised one, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon had zero anonymity in the luscious Italian restaurants they visited in The Trip to Italy. Movie “magic” or not, the basically perfect dishes that the pair were served throughout their trip made me 1. long to go to Italy and eat nothing but pasta, and 2. reawakened my never too deeply asleep desire to be a restaurant critic. And the movie isn’t even really about food.

If you watched the movie’s predecessor, The Trip[2] you already know the setup – comedic actors and friends, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, embark on a short culinary tour of Italy with the purpose of writing about the restaurants and food they encounter[3]. The Trip to Italy was originally a TV series that has been reedited into a feature length movie[4]. I have yet to see the original TV show, but, after watching the movie, it’s high on my list of things to look for on Netflix. The Italian scenery is gorgeous and the Italian food looks incredible! But, as I’ve already written, the movie isn’t really about food.

I don’t know if England classifies their actors as A-list, B-list, and so on; I highly doubt it, though. Coogan has done quite a bit of work on this side of the Atlantic, but I have too much respect for him and his work to classify him as a B-list actor. Brilliantly funny, he’s probably best known for playing the role of Alan Partridge in the British TV series “Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge” and his roles in the Night at the Museum movies, Tropic Thunder, and his dramatic turn in What Maisie Knew. Rob Brydon is less known, especially here in America. He’s collaborated with Coogan several times, and has starred in “The Rob Brydon Show.” I am far less familiar with Brydon than I am Coogan, but, based on The Trip and The Trip to Italy, Brydon’s comedic chops are no less than Coogan’s.

The Trip to Italy is actually a good-natured, buddy, road-trip movie posing as a pretentious travelogue that’s built around sumptuous scenery and food. That, I think, is the fun of it; foodies have no place in this funny movie about food. A sense of humor is required.

The friend’s interactions give the impression that this is how Coogan and Brydon interact with each other when the cameras are off. Coogan tries to play the straight man, but he is always inevitably coaxed (and very little coaxing is needed) into the battle of comedic one-upmanship, and that is a gift for the viewer. The look of child-like glee that threatens to take over Coogan’s face after he beats Brydon to a Michael Caine impression tells you everything that needs to be known about the pair’s relationship. And, keep in mind that their dueling Caine impressions take place in a highly rated Italian restaurant over plates that usually only exist in the dreams of Foodies. FYI – those Caine impressions morph into the funniest film criticism of The Dark Knight Rises that I’m willing to bet you’ll ever see.

The film is punctuated by kitchen scenes. Nothing is ever said, at least said for the camera, in the moments when the viewer is allowed to see Italian culinary artistry at its finest. When the food is brought to the table, Coogan and Brydon interact, using the appropriate amount of reverence, with the server and with the food. The movie, in those brief moments, whips the viewer into the travelogue The Trip to Italy pretends to be. And, in those brief, sophisticated and cultured moments, the viewer longs to go back to the easy-going and witty banter of the two friends. Genuine friendship trumps the best food even Italy has to offer.

I only have one friend who has watched The Trip to Italy (one friend that I’m aware of), and he enjoyed the movie as much as I did. In fact, I think most of my friends would enjoy the movie. The viewers over at Rotten Tomatoes, however, gave it a score of 58%. I’m not that familiar with Rotten Tomatoes, so I’m not sure if that’s a good, bad, or average score. It seems low to me, though[5]. Assuming that I’m right and 58% is a low score, I can’t help but wonder if those who didn’t like the film didn’t like it because their foodie expectations were thwarted. Regardless, I feel safe in stating that The Trip to Italy is a movie that will appeal to a lot more than 58% of my readers.

[1] And attention. It’s really the attention I’m after.

[2] Actually, the movie The Trip was a TV show by the same name with its episodes reedited into a feature length film.

[3] In the original movie, they toured Northern England.

[4] If you read footnote 2, you had probably already guessed that. If you hadn’t already read footnote 2, how do you determine which footnotes get read? Read them all, please! I don’t write them for my amusement!

[5] For point of fairness, the critic’s score is 89%. That seems high, and about right. But, granted, I don’t really know how Rotten Tomatoes works.  


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