The Trip to Spain is the third film in Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip series, one of the best and most surprising movie trilogies of all time. This go-around, the dining is more dramatic, the jokes more punchy and the sights more grand than ever before, thanks largely to their new cinematographer James Clarke. And at the center of it all are Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon munching on oysters and chorizo. As in the other films, they’re playing fictionalized versions of themselves as they relentlessly bicker and out-impression one another over the course of 90 or so minutes and six distinct restaurants.
Since their Trip to Italy in the last film, Brydon has another infant at home, while Coogan nurses his post-Philomena career as an up-and-coming dramatic writer in the industry. Coogan deals with insecurity as a new, younger writer is brought on to doctor his latest script, while Brydon, a sturdy rock of principles and radio announcer impressions, proves to be as nonchalant and self-aware as ever. He excels when undermining Coogan’s rampant egotism.
In their many exchanges of impressions, Coogan and Brydon haul Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Sir Ian McKellen, Marlon Brando and, of course, Sir Michael Caine into their manic banter. But the real star here is Sir Roger Moore, the centerpiece of two of the movie’s best dialogues — one of which finds Coogan blithering on about the history of the Moors in Spain, to which Brydon begins rebutting Coogan with a spot-on Moore impression.
The laughs here are bigger and the conversations more nuanced than in previous films, but the exploration of midlife crises has never been more blatant. In one scene, Brydon stands next to a dinosaur and asks Coogan to take a picture of them. “Which one’s the dinosaur?” Coogan asks coyly.
The conversations feel longer in Spain, revealing more of an interest this time around to get to know Coogan and Brydon as characters instead of impression machines. The decision pays off in the film’s final 20 minutes, which go from merely observing the men’s shortcomings to punishing them. This narrative turn is spontaneous and off-kilter, but at least it breaks the mold.
Only Coogan and Brydon can do Roger Moore impressions over shellfish and then strike a high-brow literary reference. And only The Trip to Spain can do that by dressing up Coogan and Brydon as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Buen provecho.