Film Review: The Trip to Spain Feels Familiar Yet Refreshing

Photograph courtesy of IFC Films This review won’t take long because I’m guessing you already know if you want to see this. If you’ve seen the extraordinarily funny and clever collaborations between comic actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon and filmmaker Michael Winterbottom (The Trip, The Trip to Italy) then you have a pretty solid idea what The Trip to Spain is all about. Wonderfully prepared food that looks so good that it might make you angry you can’t sample it; impressions of famous actors that are so spot-on at times it feels like the two actors are jousting to see who does them better; and updates on their careers that make Brydon look like the luckiest guy in the world and Coogan to be on the verge of failure (probably the most fictitious element of the entire series). With the actors playing barely veiled versions of themselves, the series feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy, with the success of the “articles” they’ve written about their culinary road trips fueling another magazine to hire them to take another trip. These films seem almost too easy. With Spain, there does seem to be a bit more about Coogan’s career than usual. He won’t stop bringing up the fact that he got two Oscar nominations for Philomena (for writing and best picture) since the last trip, and while he assumes that should have resulted in offers for more work pouring in, in fact, his agent appears to be dumping him and the latest script that he’s turned in is about to be rewritten by someone else. Meanwhile, Brydon’s getting offers left and right, some of which would likely hurt Coogan to such a degree, he doesn’t even tell him. But that’s all fiction (well, most of it). The core joy of the series remains intact. Joining the party are the boys’ renditions of David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Sean Connery, Ian McKellen, and Roger Moore (so much Moore that it feels like a tribute to the late James Bond actor). And if you think they’ve left their dueling Michael Caines back in England, you are sadly mistaken. The Trip to Spain does take on an interesting quality that is brought up more than once as Coogan and Brydon assume the roles of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza (literally, when they are asked to pose in costume for a photoshoot to accompany the article). Photograph courtesy of IFC Films This series works on a great many levels, but the moments I always enjoy are catching the two men turning in for the night, rehashing the day with a significant other (Rob is a new father, so he Skypes with his infant son), while Coogan is dealing with career catastrophes and the impending meet up with his now 20-year-old son. On the surface, these movies are about food, picturesque scenery, and jokes, but for many of us (the actors, certainly), they are about the passage of time, with both men having recently turned 50, and one or two of those watching the films right around that age as well. As fans of the films probably know, these roughly two-hour films are cut down from corresponding six-part miniseries that aired on British television, but Winterbottom knows how to make them work in both formats, and I hope that just because we’ve reached that magical number 3 that all franchises aim for doesn’t mean this series is done. I need a new Trip film every few years just to remind myself I’m still alive and that there are places in the world I have yet to visit and delicacies I have yet to consume. I guess what I’m saying is, I need these films and their creators like I need oxygen, and if you’ve been keeping up, then you probably feel the same. The film opens today at the Landmark Century Center Cinema.
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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.