17 Jun 2020

Movie review: The Trip to Greece

From At The Movies, 7:32 pm on 17 June 2020

The Trip to Greece is the fourth and final in the series starring comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Ten years on, they follow in the footsteps of another ten-year journey.

Simon Morris: The Trip series of films and TV shows are deceptively and cunningly structured by director Michael Winterbottom, one of the most prolific and versatile film-makers in Britain today.

His range seems astonishing – 24 Hour Party People, Tristram Shandy, 9 songs, Welcome to Sarajevo and dozens more – all totally different but all relying heavily on improvisation.

No films seemed more made up on the hoof than the four Trips – the first one, followed by Trips to Italy, Spain and now Greece. 

On the surface, the form seems lifted from reality TV - two celebrity friends, comedians Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, encouraged to bicker amusingly at a number of exclusive restaurants.

The conceit is that the pair are playing themselves – the egotistical Coogan, undermined by the more laidback Brydon – but of course, that’s not the case. 

Their children, spouses and partners, their agents and managers are all played by actors, and each Trip has at its heart a devised structure that reveals itself along the way.

But the dialogue is entirely improvised, and it’s one of the marvels of the series that the script is made up of ad-lib jokes that still manage to advance the plot.  

The Trip to Greece is the last of the series, 10 years on, and it echoes the fact that the most famous trip of all time was Homer’s Odyssey, a trip that also took 10 years.

Where the last Trip in Spain compared the relationship of the two stars with Spain’s literary double act, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the voyage here taps into Greek myths and legends.

Mind you, it’s hard not to since everywhere they go is a historic site, including one in Turkey – the ruins of Troy.

In the previous Trips, the obvious comic figure was Coogan, whose persona as an egotistical blowhard borrows from his most famous creation, Alan Partridge.

But this time, it’s not quite so easy to mock. The character of Coogan is a man whose fame hasn’t brought him much happiness, certainly no long-lasting relationship. 

This time he struggles with the news that his father is in hospital.  Will he abandon the trip to try and reconnect with his family?

Meanwhile, the usually likeable Rob Brydon seems to take pleasure in comparing Steve’s life with his own happy marriage. This time he almost seems to be the bully of the pair, delivering comic thrusts that Coogan finds hard to counter.

It’s a trick, needless to say – giving the illusion of insight into a long-lasting friendship when both the insight and in some ways the friendship are fictional. 

But where does it say that a relationship in a movie has to be true?  

The gags remain as fresh as ever, even covering the same ground. Yes, James Bond makes several more appearances.

The highlights, as always, are the impressions – whether it’s Hugh Grant, Michael Parkinson and Mick Jagger on their own, or the Trip’s defining gag, the competitive impersonation. 

Inevitably balloon-shaped tenor Demis Roussos is the subject of a play-off. 

Though for me he’s surpassed by his former band-mate Vangelis, as Coogan and Brydon pay tribute to the Olympic Games by beat-boxing Chariots of Fire.

If I haven’t mentioned the food, it may be because it’s still a painful memory. I went to a 6 o’clock screening of The Trip to Greece with nothing to eat, not even popcorn.

The parade of amazing dishes started to count as cruel and unusual punishment after an hour or so.  Eat first, is my advice.

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