In the last decade, Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip triptych has taken a fairly simple premise and turned it into one of the finest trilogies in recent memory – a wonderful arc about male friendships. On the surface, The Trip films seem like a case of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”
In reality, though, The Trip to Spain has finally nailed the right amount of character development and necessary plot for a film that is essentially a series of vignettes.
Like both its predecessors, The Trip to Spain stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as slightly varied versions of themselves, going to a foreign country, eating delicious-looking food, and having impression-laden conversations. As the title implies, this time Coogan and Brydon head to Spain for some more of the same. In this third film, both Coogan and Brydon are nearing 50 and starting to recognize their limitations and turning points in their lives. Coogan is still high off his Oscar-nominated Philomena, yet shakeups with his agent have put his career in a stalemate. Meanwhile, Brydon’s career seems on the rise, as new opportunities come up. Coogan’s life is starting to pause, while Brydon’s late start means his life is seemingly getting better and better.
With these new developments, we learn more about who these men are, whereas with character details in the first two films, it felt a handful of skits that needed something more, with elements being added for no real purpose. For example, both The Trip and The Trip to Italy featured moments where Coogan and Brydon cheated on their significant others. These moments added nothing to these characters or their interactions. For those two films, it was unnecessary added details that never changed the long-term perspective of either of these characters. If anything, the bare minimum of plot that was injected to those films were their biggest flaw. Yet with The Trip to Spain’s refining of its own plot, the development is more permanent and important. Coogan and Brydon have more substantial details to work with, and it makes their characters richer and more fascinating to watch.
The first two films would’ve been far tighter without any plot to speak of, allowing for nothing but great comedy and good food. The Trip to Spain nails a balance of both for the first time in the franchise. Coogan and Brydon have moved past dueling Michael Caines, instead trying out their David Bowie impressions, or Mick Jagger reciting Shakespeare. While the series has always placed Brydon as the genius joker, Coogan outperforms Brydon in The Trip to Spain in almost every way. His impressions are more accurate, his random asides at different landmarks are funnier, and his story is far meatier than Brydon’s. For the first time, The Trip series isn’t so much an equal pairing of the two men, instead – as Coogan would likely say – it’s Coogan’s story, with Brydon as sidekick.
Most importantly – like every film in this franchise – The Trip to Spain is one of the most hilarious films of the year. Coogan and Brydon’s timing and knowledge of each other only gets stronger as these films progress and they now know what will make each other break in scene. Because of this, their friendship feels more real than ever before, which only makes them more enjoyable and brilliant to watch together.
With slight increments, The Trip series has honed its elements to make each installment better than the last. The Trip to Spain is Winterbottom, Brydon, and Coogan at their peak together and if they keep improving upon this premise, this trio shouldn’t stop anytime soon.