“The Trip to Greece” is a fitting end to the series, but don’t expect a comedy

The Trip to Greece Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip to Greece. (IFC Films)

The last entry in the Trip series provides more insults and impressions, but it isn’t so much about the jokes this time.

When The Trip first hit American soil in 2011, it was a reprieve from the travelogue filmmaking that had reached its apex. If anything, its being a television series edited into feature length for American release only helped cement that. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon played fictionalized versions of themselves, and their dueling impersonations were as heightened as the locales were subdued. Its tour through the north of England was as beautifully banal as the personal lives of its two main characters, be it in structures or sights. 

But something was lost with the next two entries. The Trip to Italy disappointed in how it bathed in its vacation hotspots, but its murkier morality helped soften the blow. The Trip to Spain, on the other hand, lost its balance of pathos and knowing vanity, making for a stale entry that ended on a shrug. Now with the final entryThe Trip to Greece, one would expect further diminishing returns, and that’s the case—at least at first. The formula is at its most predictable, the gags more obligatory. Then it gets to a point where, as imperfect as its execution may be, that decision becomes clear. This Trip isn’t a comedy. It pities its characters too much for that.

Whereas the first film painted its leads as opposite sides of the male ego, that dichotomy began to blur. They influenced each other and, in some regards, even corrupted each other. It’s now that director Michael Winterbottom is content with understanding that while these two once journeyed from their starting points, they’re set to return to them. Their children have grown; their respective relationships have changed. And it’s through the first half of The Trip to Greece that their ways of life border on the solipsistic.

It’s not too often here that Winterbottom focuses on anyone else. Rather, it’s not too often that Steve and Rob allow him to focus on anyone else—at least for more than a moment. Winterbottom and editor Marc Richardson cut between the actors’ conversations and others’ words at the jokers’ own volition. People come and go under their passive gazes, which are so lacking in self-awareness that they almost border on uncomfortable. All the while, James Clarke‘s sanitized travelogue aesthetic covers each locale indiscriminately.

Past entries revolved around mid-life crises, yes, but this is the point where the real crisis is accepting that these men will end up just like they were a decade ago.

That said, it’s in the second half—and especially the last third—when this all takes on a different light. The first half has more than a few pacing issues, even apart from its transition from TV series to feature film. Rapport can go on too long without enough self-awareness to strengthen its tone or to give a fidelity to its shifts. There’s a subplot involving Steve’s son, Joe (Tim Leach), giving him updates on Steve’s father’s (Richard Claws) health, and while it tethers the film to reality, it does so inconsistently.

Once The Trip to Greece takes the agency to introduce other characters, it gains momentum. Better yet, it lets the viewer reprocess what came before it. That said, it’s important to realize that it does this tonally, not narratively or thematically. A sense of fatalism sets in previously unknown to the series, and it’s this Trip’s most notable feature. Past entries revolved around mid-life crises, yes, but this is the point where the real crisis is accepting that these men will end up just like they were a decade ago. And perhaps you will too.

But just know that isn’t a threat, or even a promise. It’s simply a possibility to prepare for.

The Trip to Greece lands on VOD this Friday, May 22.

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