The Greece-y Strangler: Winterbottom Lays His Culinary Comedy Series to Rest
Michael Winterbottom aims to kill his darlings with the fourth and final segment of his celebrated series The Trip to Greece, wherein actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon continue to portray exaggerated, pretentious versions of themselves as they needle one another passive-aggressively and consume delectable dishes in various posh restaurants.
All journeys must come to an end, seems to be the theme, as Winterbottom riffs on Homer with Steve and Rob all set to ‘retrace the steps of Odysseus’ before reality comes crashing in, at long last. Although a frivolous travelogue would seem to add insult to injury to the world’s current gridlock in the wake of COVID-19, it’s actually a reminder to cherish the privilege our moments as they transpire since nothing is guaranteed to last. Unfortunately, it gives this series capper a rather drained, dour ambience which makes it much less effervescent, and therefore entertaining, than its predecessors.
In their latest food-related excursion, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are all set to experience the cuisine from Troy to Ithaca in a novel theme to celebrate the epic journey of Odysseus. As they leave Turkey for Greece, the men compete and chat with one another, discussing thoughts on usual frivolous topics. But Steve’s son keeps calling about his father’s ailing health, and their idyll eventually finds itself hobbled by a reality he’s been avoiding.
There’s hardly any food featured in The Trip to Greece, to the extent those who stumble onto the decade long series (which follows 2010’s The Trip, 2014’s The Trip to Italy, and 2017’s The Trip to Spain) might be confused about what the point of the film is supposed to be. This time around, Coogan seems a little more tolerant of Brydon, who is as affable as ever. As Coogan preens over his well-received performance in Stan & Ollie (2018), we get the usual roundelay of competing impressions, with some nice, if expected bits on Laurence Olivier, Dustin Hoffman, Ray Winstone and Sean Connery, among others. Winterbottom had also tapped Coogan for his Trump-like fashion mogul black comedy Greed, which premiered last year and also filmed in Greece, which perhaps suggests the significant literary and cultural significance of the region shaping this last film, which indeed acts like a Trojan Horse mechanism.
The clues to its eventual duress are spattered all throughout Winterbottom’s soundtrack selection, which includes a bevy of recycled Michael Nyman tracks, and the eloquent somnolence of Philip Glass—particularly his moody piece Satyagraha: Protest, which may subconsciously jumpstart memories of Stephen Daldry’s The Hours (2002). Overall, fans of the two leads can find enough here to make their time worthwhile, but for a series built on making its audience forget its really just about two guys talking, The Trip to Greece too often pays attention to the man behind the curtain.
Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.