“There better be some Spain in this,” I joke as the lights dim. Which is honestly the only hope I have for this movie. If someone gave me a movie to review and said it was about two fifty-year old guys on a road trip, I think my response would be less than thrilled. But the Spanish thing makes it all okay.
Of course, if anyone is at all familiar with this series, you’re probably smirking. Because what happens is very little Spain and a lot of Steve and Rob. Yes, 98% of the movie is in Spain. They even do Don Quixote dress-ups and eat only local cuisine. But the dishes and the landscapes fly by without much of a comment and end up being the backdrop to the guys’ banter. But you know what? This actually turns out to be a good thing.
The Trip to Spain follows the strange genre that sits somewhere in between drama and documentary. We’ve seen others do it. Linklater and Woody Allen are famous for this. You’re not quite sure if what you’re seeing is improvised dialogue or just really good acting. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play alter-egos of themselves with Steve’s character having to do a series of restaurant reviews in Spain. He calls on Rob as his travelling partner and although the two have quite a history together, it’s clear that they’re in very different spaces. Rob is now a family man with two young children. Meanwhile, Steve, having turned 50, struggles more than ever to establish himself both in love and at work.
Steve’s insecurities aren’t too apparent from the start though. They’re outshone by the brilliant, weird banter between him and Rob, which often resulted in an entire theatre laughing out loud. Wherever they go, whether it’s sampling chorizo or regarding the tombs of long-dead patriarchs, their dialogue is irreverent but so infectiously humorous that you’re bound to forgive them. Most notable LOL moments would be their impersonations, particularly Rob’s mumbling Marlon Brando and Steve’s uncanny De Niro.
There are so many moments where you’re laughing and you’re thinking, “Oh gawd, this has got to stop soon.” But then it keeps going. And as it does, you’re slowly made aware of the second layer to the film. This uneasy undercurrent becomes stronger as the trip goes on. At first, you’re not sure if it’s what the director intended. But as it raises its head in brief unexpected moments, there are times, even while you’re laughing, that the film makes clear that there’s something else going on.
I don’t mean to make it sound like a psychological thriller. Because it isn’t. But what it is is a masterful commentary on men faced with the tragedy of a life that they’re not quite satisfied with and have no power (or time) to change. At one point, Steve, frustrated that his script is being hijacked by a younger up-and-coming writer, blurts out that while he may not be “up-and-coming”, he’s already come.
By the end, I’m left with a painfully raw vision of what an insecure person can look like later in life. But I’m also left with admiration for Steve and Rob’s real-life selves for being able to look into the mirror so boldly.
I wish the film had been called something else. Because with a title like that, there were times where I just wanted them to tell me how the buffalo cheese they were eating was made. Or the significance of the castle they were in. Well, if you want a travel guide, go see Rick Steves. But if you want a good irreverent laugh and a surprisingly insightful look at the definition of success (or failure), then you’ve come to the right place.