The Trip to Italy is a hard film to dislike. Sure, your jealousy of Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan might curdle into distaste. They’re both charming fellows, talented (and affable, if you believe Brydon), but when they get to make a television series-cum-feature film that sees them traipse around the most picturesque locales in Italy, sampling fine food and driving a sponsored Mini between sponsored hotels, it’s easy to be a little envious. Thankfully, The Trip to Italy is more than likeable enough to transcend any such resentment, even if it occasionally strains to condense a six-part television series into a coherent movie.
As a travelogue, The Trip to Italy treats us to some truly gorgeous shots of the Italian landscape (there’s some especially beautiful views of Mount Vesuvius rising above the ocean, engulfed by thick forest). The main course, however, is a thick serving of dad jokes. Really good dad jokes, admittedly – dad jokes at the expense of The Dark Knight Rises and Michael Bublé, driven by innumerable impersonations, and interspersed with cute factoids about Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, Beat the Devil (John Huston, 1953), and Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953). When the film is content to coast on its considerable charm, it’s a lovely little journey. It’s easy to imagine yourself as the third member of their dinner party, wisely avoiding interrupting their banter as you enjoy a vintage chianti and some handmade ravioli.
A film summarised by “a couple of funny old guys eat food in scenic Italy” would make a hard sell to producers, so we’re also served some underwhelming dramatic subplots in an attempt to enliven the proceedings. Brydon – or, perhaps we should clarify, “Brydon,” the fictional version of the actor/comedian of the same name – falls for a blonde deckhand despite having a wife and young daughter at home, which leads to some heming and hawing rather than any substantial dramatic plotline. Oh, and he auditions for a Michael Mann film. Coogan, meanwhile, frets over his relationship with his teenage son, who’s apparently unable to have a good time holidaying in Ibiza.
Look, it’s probably unfair to dismiss these subplots as “rich white dude problems.” They are – one of their problems is solved by simply buying another house, as you do – but if the film was sufficiently invested in these problems, its audience could do the same. Instead, director Michael Winterbottom and his two stars can’t give two shits about such mundane problems; I’d argue they’d have been better left on the editing room floor.
Perhaps the editing room is where another problem lies. The Trip to Italy aired as a six episode, three hour television series in the United Kingdom, before being cut to roughly half that length and released on Australia’s silver screens. The final product – complete with ‘Tuesday’ title cards – barely disguises its episodic nature, and the seams show in a number of places. The first restaurant scene, in particular, attempts to edit some improvisational riffing with cutaways to food preparation into a cogent whole. The editing smooths out as the film progresses … or perhaps I simply became more forgiving of its stop-start rhythm.
It’s surprising, though, how charming The Trip to Italy is. As a hodge-podge of improvisation, cultural tidbits and thin drama pulled together from a television show, it should be a culinary disaster. Instead, thanks mostly to the talents of Brydon and Coogan, The Trip to Italy is a warm, entertaining Italian holiday.
This review was originally published at The 500 Club.