We were on holiday, having a nice meal at a restaurant in the little village of Montignac a number of years ago. The maître d’ noticed an older couple come in. He walked over to them and welcomed them as if they were old friends. It was obvious that they had been there before ... many times. “It’s like being home again,” said the woman, with a thick British accent.
This memory came flashing back to me because “The Trip to Spain” is all about eating in European restaurants, and watching it gave me the feeling of being home again. It’s the third film directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden — “The Trip” and “The Trip to Italy” came before it — that makes up one of the odder series in British cinema.
All three were edited down to theatrical length from six-part TV shows. All three of them have the two actors playing “versions” of themselves: Pals who make their living as actors and who keep getting assignments to travel around and write about their dining experiences. The first took place in northern England, the second was all over Italy, and this one follows them on a “nooks and crannies tour of Spain.”
That feeling of being home again occurred because this isn’t very different from what’s come previously. It’s not exactly a sequel, but rather a continuation of the original idea. Both guys are once again between acting jobs, so have the time to take on this adventure. Coogan plays a Coogan who’s adrift, a divorced man who’s become kind of a womanizer, but often feels lonely. Bryden plays a Bryden who has a happy, loving home life, but wouldn’t mind a break from the crying and screaming of his youngest child. More important, both guys enjoy each other’s company.
So it’s into the Range Rover, with Coogan always at the wheel and Bryden always with the guide book open, off to the ferry, and onward to Spain, where they’ll spend a week driving through long stretches of rural areas on winding roads.
As in the series’ predecessors, there’s plenty of eating, with those scenes presented in what’s become a ritual style. There are quick glimpses into restaurant kitchens, where meals are being prepared in close-up, the meals are brought to our travelers and presented by Spanish-speaking servers, and there’s talk, lots of talk, between them.
The charm as well as the sometimes serious side of these movies is in the talk. Coogan and Bryden can’t shut up. They talk about music and movies, all the while breaking into plentiful imitations related to their subjects. They both attempt singing like Mick Jagger, they both do a pretty good Anthony Hopkins, and one scene consists of what can only be referred to as dueling Roger Moores.
They are great at this, their shared comic timing is impeccable, and most of these bits are hilarious. But the film also has a somber side, with discussions veering into the topics of aging and, of course, mortality. There’s never been a writing credit on any of these films because Coogan and Bryden are improvising on loose ideas all the way through. There’s not much doubt that they’re history buffs in real life because they appear to be very knowledgeable about it — always ready to stop the car at some famous site — even though they often come across as founts of useless information.
There’s also a hint of a storyline woven into all of this, with Coogan uncertain about his acting and writing future when he discovers, by phone, that his agent has left him. On the other hand, Bryden, the much happier of the two, keeps calling home to have nice chats with his wife.
This third entry is funny and serious and wistful. It ends with Noel Harrison’s 1968 recording of “The Windmills of Your Mind,” Bryden contentedly back home, and Coogan possibly in peril. Here’s hoping there will be a fourth course in the series.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The Trip to Spain”
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
With Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden