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Review: 'The Trip to Greece' A Poignant Finale for Coogan and Brydon's Wanderings

by Kilian Melloy
Friday May 22, 2020
'The Trip to Greece'
'The Trip to Greece'  

Like the three films before it — "The Trip" (2010), "The Trip to Italy" (2014), and "The Trip to Spain" (2017) — Michael Winterbottom's fourth and final Steve Coogan/Rob Brydon journey, "The Trip to Greece," was initially presented in UK television as a six-part series. If the feature film version — which is the TV series boiled down to its essentials — feels a little ragged, a little haphazard, and a little mysterious, now you know why.

It's not necessary to have seen the other films to get a grasp on "The Trip to Greece," but a little background might help. Less a mockumentary than a character study in aging and friendship, the films take the (oh so plausible) notion of Steve Coogan being commissioned to write a series of restaurant reviews in a foreign country, and bringing best friend and constant foil Rob Brydon along with him for amusement, moral support, and perspective. (But not to share driving duties: Coogan won't share the wheel.)

"The Trip to Greece" is more than a series of restaurant experiences; it's also a love letter to the Greek islands, and a modern retelling, of sorts, of mythic ventures as Coogan and Brydon retrace the route taken by Odysseus thousands of years ago when he made his way home after the Trojan war. What took Odysseus a decade to accomplish is set to take Coogan and Brydon a little less than a week... though absent sea monsters, whirlpools, one-eyed giants, and passionate goddesses. That's not to say there isn't romance along the way, but the adventures here feel feel fairly quotidian, and nothing that your average pair of middle-aged best mates might not get up to. (Eyeing a pile of rubble that purports to be the birthplace of Aristotle, Brydon can't help but make a comparison to Legoland, where the blocks may be plastic rather than hewn from stone, but at least stay stacked on top of one another.)

Underneath, though, this filmic odyssey — which has also taken ten years — is preparing its fans to say goodbye. But first, there's plenty more to see, and do — and to say: The real adventure comes in the form of nonstop verbal sparring. Like their real-life counterparts, these fictional versions of Coogan and Brydon are actors, and there's a rich vein of comedy to be mined in the two referencing anecdotes from their careers, lapsing into recitations of movie dialogue at the drop of a scallion, and riffing on the performance styles of various cinema greats. (Between the courses of one meal, Alexander the Great meets Marlon Brando in a jocular mashup of history and "The Godfather.")

The film lovingly lingers on the duo as they cut up while enjoying fine dining, but nips into the kitchens of various restaurants to lend the film a sense of place and lend a real-world sensibility. But there are also stains of underlying drama, not unlike the subplot of "The Trip to Spain," in which Coogan and his adult son set out to forge a relationship. In this case, phone calls from Coogan's son Joe (Timothy Leach), who keeps Coogan informed of his father's illness and decline. What starts as a passing reference to "The Aeneid" — which our wanderers compare to "The Odyssey" and more or less dismiss as a rip-off of the Homeric tale — becomes the source material for a series of anxiety dreams centered on journeys of another sort: That in which fathers and sons brave the unknown roads of this world and, with a quick trip across the River Styx, the next.

At under two hours, "The Trip to Greece" can't possibly give us enough of anything — the food, the countryside, the traveling companions — and you might want to see if you can find the full six-part series some time. But what we have here is a tasting plate of moods and locales, gorgeous seaside moments, laddish needling, and bittersweet ruminations.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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