Much like Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy, Michael Winterbottom’s “Trip” films have a fly-on-the-wall aesthetic that creates a sense of eavesdropping on the viewer’s part.
The scenes and conversations that take place have an organic quality, a free-wheeling sense about them that lends an authenticity to the project that can’t be manufactured or faked.
Starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, there’s no screenwriting credit for these projects, as so much of what we see has been improvised and much of the inherent delight of these films — “The Trip,” “The Trip to Italy” and “The Trip to Spain” — is that Winterbottom captures the moment of artistic creation, letting these two witty raconteurs speak about whatever comes to mind, allowing them to run down whatever tangents presents themselves and circling back to the threadbare plot they’ve decided to construct a story around.
Their latest cinematic journey, “The Trip to Greece,” is arguably the best entry in the series since it debuted a decade ago.
The premise is the same — the duo is given an assignment to travel to a foreign land, sample its native cuisine and culture, and compose a witty magazine article about their experiences.
This time out, they recreate the journey of Odysseus from Troy to Ithaca, a six-day trip that includes stops at the Acropolis, Olympia, Macedonia and numerous high-end restaurants along the way.
Like the other entries in the series, the film plays like it was commissioned by the tourism board of the respective country, as Winterbottom captures the most magnificent Greek sights in all their beauty and splendor.
The conversations that occur over the lavish meals begin with a specific point only to devolve into stream-of-consciousness tete-a-tetes that often incorporate celebrity impersonations and good-natured kidding, mostly at Coogan’s expense.
The worst imitation you ever heard of Marlon Brando is offered up, as are takes on Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, an imagined recreation of Mick Jagger’s recent hospital stay, as well as a version of King Henry VIII as a gangster.
Clever and done with tongue firmly in cheek, these moments are inspired and witty, the sort of intelligent humor that’s rarely seen on screen.
Coogan proves a good sport throughout, offering himself as a target for his co-star to lampoon at every turn.
He brings up his acclaimed turn as Stan Laurel from the recent movie “Stan & Ollie” on numerous occasions only to have Brydon deflate his ego again and again.
Equally effective are moments in which Coogan tries to impart some history on the surroundings — which are clearly important to him — to his clueless companion, who finds a trivial point to focus on that has little to do with the subject at hand.
That Brydon serenades his pal with the theme from “Grease” because they are in Greece, elicits one of Coogan’s many priceless expressions of exasperation.
And while witnessing the natural camaraderie that exists between the two is delightful, there’s a sense of melancholy just beneath the surface, a degree of gravitas that balances the humor.
As in the other entries, Coogan’s personal life intrudes on the trip, this time in the form of his father and their troubled relationship, as well as doubt over if he’s doing right by his son.
This is juxtaposed with Brydon’s situation, as he’s content with his second wife and two children, enjoying each day as it comes.
Each are on their own personal journey yet in traveling together, whether abroad or through a normal day, these two friends support each other.
And this is the theme that connects these movies — the notion that though we each may be on a different path, it’s the journey that unites us.