Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Trip to Italy

When the world embarked on the first round of The Trip, Love & Squalor covered it in a rare moment of collaborative exercise.  Now absent co-founder M. and I found we couldn't write a straight critical appraisal of the film, we had to toss it back and forth and converse (in the form of the film) about the ways it spoke to something personal.  In that case, it was a way of seeing our own friendship in the dynamic between the metafictional versions of Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan.  We were them, in a way.  We are them, maybe.  Beyond that, though, I still have a sense of how abnormal that film watching experience felt for me.  Though it was dressed up in the trappings of one, there was a sense that The Trip wasn't a movie in the traditional sense of the word.  It became this thing, this collection of moments that felt weirdly personal and which I found myself loving in a way somehow different from the  way I love my favorite films.  

I love The Trip.  I adore it.  I've thrown it on over and over again, I never tire of it.  In reality, it probably is one of my favorite films.  

If you ask me, though -- outside of this blog post -- I'm not sure I'd think to describe it as such.  The Trip doesn't sit as a film, it's something that feels like a collection of memories and inside jokes. It's so oddly familiar and so separate from conventional structure that I still have a hard time flatly appraising it.  Is it good? Is it bad? How does it function as art? How is it pieced together?  I find that I don't care. It's simply an experience, and one enjoyable enough to repeat in perpetuity.

So, ask me: how was The Trip to Italy?
The only answer I can tell you: great. Really great. Fucking great. Brilliant, even. I loved it. I wanted to restart it immediately, I wanted to catch all the jokes I may have missed as i laughed.  I was immediately upset that I hadn't ordered it on demand so that I could, actually, just begin again.  Everything about it was perfect even though it was essentially exactly the same as the first film.  

What's changed? This time, well, they go to Italy. This time, Coogan is a little more settled and balanced. This time, Brydon becomes morally complicated in ways that add significant dimension to his likable self. This time, the two obsess and talk repeatedly through Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, contemplating Romantic poetry in the face of food, middle age, fatherhood, modernity, and the repeated tracks of an Alanis Morissette CD.  It's a series of small story alterations that allow the film to maintain the illusion of reality in the face of super subtle editing and plotting.  The beauty of the formula is: it works.

It's that simple. 

While not everyone will feel that way, certainly, for my money Brydon and Coogan (with director Michael Winterbottom as the invisible hand) are a sort of perfect cinematic couple. They're an extraordinary pairing, brilliant conversationalists, and their egos clash and blend in a way that makes even their most bitter interactions entertaining for the audience.  As the bicker, compete, and dish out more Michael Caine impressions than one would think possible, it becomes clear that through the self-questioning and deprecation that these two are naturally comedic.  Sustaining their interaction, capturing them on film is something too good to be true, but too true to be confined to fiction. 

The Trip to Italy follows The Trip which follows, really, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.  I want it to continue.  Just keep going.   

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