The Trip to Spain (Winterbottom, 2017)

Every few years, Michael Winterbottom films Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing semi-fictionalized versions of themselves, traveling to exotic locales and eating culinary delicacies as amateur food critics. Throughout the journey, the two banter like the good friends that they are, almost always slipping in a few impersonations of famous celebrities and trying to casually one-up the other. The Trip to Spain changes nothing about this formula, and I’m glad it doesn’t. These films are like comfort food on a cold day. When you need something light and guaranteed to make you smile, while also hugging you with its familiarity, The Trip films do the trick nicely. You put one on, and instantly you know what to expect.

The Trip to Spain is a only a bit different from the others in the sense that the food no longer takes precedence over the comedians’ “personal” lives (quotes used because, obviously, the drama here is largely fabricated). You see chefs preparing the food in the various kitchens, and servers bring it to the table, but the whole food critic angle is more of an afterthought. The alter egos here have been developed over this trilogy to the point where they can talk about marriages and children, aging and fame, without too much context. And so it is here. Coogan gets a new agent and has a mistress in New York; Brydon has children of his own, including a toddler. There’s also talk of Don Quixote, the Moors and David Bowie, and this version’s karaoke event is “The Windmills of Your Mind.”

All in all, this is probably the second best film of the trilogy after the first. Unlike Italy, the balance between the banter and the personal drama is well-calibrated, and the conversations somehow never feel irrelevant, as they’re always tinged with existential curiosity. The ridiculous impersonations (including Mick Jagger, Roger Moore and Marlon Brando) are also as amusing as they’ve always been. The ending is off-kilter and may not guarantee us a fourth film (sadly), though it somehow still feels… satisfying. As though it’s a natural conclusion to what these characters have been up to over the years.

I do hope there’s another installment. If only to hear Coogan morosely refer to himself as an Oscar nominee for Philomena again. Oh, Philomena.