Review by Sean Boelman
The fourth (and supposedly final) entry into Michael Winterbottom’s travelogue series starring British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, The Trip to Greece may be the best one. Letting the food take a backseat to the character development and hilarious interactions, this film proves that Winterbottom, Coogan, and Brydon are still some of the most able comedians working today.
For those who are familiar with the series, the premise of this film will be no surprise. Comedians and friends Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon take a culinary tour of Greece, along the way having several conversations that are either insightful or comedic, and sometimes both. It’s a simple set-up, but even though there have been four of these, the premise has not worn itself thin.
As always, the humor of the film banks on the chemistry between Coogan and Brydon, and their individual talents. Both are finally becoming more known to American audiences than they were when the first film was released a decade ago, but here, they aren’t relying on their usual tricks. There’s even a joke in the film about one of them falling back on their safe character when they can’t think of anything else in the moment.
The ideas of fame and mortality have always been at the center of these films, but these topics are even more prevalent now. A significant portion of the film addresses Coogan’s acclaimed performance as Stan Laurel in the biopic Stan & Ollie, which the fictionalized version of himself believes to have elevated him to “actor” status over comedian (as if Philomena hadn’t already done that).
But what is so endearing here is the level of emotion that Coogan is able to shine through. Beneath the cocky facade and bits, it’s clear that the character — and perhaps the actor himself — fears that he has peaked. The previous two films have talked about how Coogan wanted to recapture the glory of Philomena, and now that he’s gotten that chance, he worries that he might not be able to hold onto it.
On the other hand, Brydon’s emotional arc was pretty well wrapped-up in the other three films. Here, he exists mostly as a second half to bounce lines off of Coogan and as a comedic performer. And he’s as funny as ever here, whether he’s trying to out-compete Coogan in impressions, or simply singing “Grease” in Greece, capturing the irony of the moment.
With the lessened focus on food here, the cinematography isn’t as spectacular as usual, but the food shots (when there) are gorgeous, as are some of the shots of the scenery. This airs in the U.K. as a miniseries, so it’s likely that some of this content was cut from the feature film version in favor of the deeper character-driven material.
The Trip to Greece delivers exactly what fans of the series are hoping for in droves. While it is sad that we likely won’t get to see Coogan and Brydon sampling flavors of a country again, Winterbottom completed his story with the most poignant chapter yet.
The Trip to Greece hits VOD on May 22.