I have an old friend who is a great conversationalist. Recently he proposed that we go on a road trip together, “just once before we die.” What would we do? Drive, eat, talk. Maybe see some spectacular scenery (how about Wyoming?). If both of us could afford it at the time (we’ve both had our ups and downs), stay in some nice places. Dine at some fine restaurants. Converse about anything and everything, but try to keep it light most of the time. Humor always appreciated, because we’re in this for a good time; all we really want to do is enjoy one another’s company.
The same ground rules apply to old friends Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. They’ve already done this once, around England (they’re both Brits), with the pretext of Rob writing restaurant reviews. Now his editor wants him to do an Italian mini-tour: Liguria, Tuscany, Rome, Amalfi, Capri. Fire up the sports car. Plug in the Alanis Morissette music (can we really be nostalgic about 90s pop, or is that, too, ironic?). Bring on the Old World European charm, where musty hotels are considered quaint, and small winding country roads appealing. And though this sounds kinda boring, just tagging along with these guys as they drive, eat and talk. Still, we can’t help but think about how we ourselves would enjoy just such a trip, with just the right companion, and, of course, no worries about expense. Bring on the gourmet platters and the fine wines.
No, it’s not sidesplitting funny, though there are plenty of comedic moments. Brydon, especially, is great at doing imitations, particularly of other actors. Sure, you have to be somewhat of a cinemaphile to appreciate the humor: Hugh Grant’s stuttering cadence, Sean Connery’s stentorian brogue, Michael Cain’s Cockney bluster – but Americans are fair game, too, especially Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino… well, you get the idea. The funniest bits are when they play off each other (probably spontaneously and unscripted), in riffing Batman or complaining about how most of the James Bond actors weren’t really English (remember, my fellow Americans, they still make great distinctions about the Welsh and the Scots, and particularly the Irish).
Yes, we have enough moviemaking sense to know that comedy is unsustainable for the entire film’s length, so we intersperse some serious moments, like when they tour the catacombs with the pile of bones, or when divorced Steve is Skyping his 16-year-old son who’s bored and doesn’t want to be with mom right now, or when Rob is calling his frazzled wife who’s home with their four-year-old daughter and never seems to have time to talk to him. And yes, there are a couple of women along the way: Rob’s agent, who gets him a gig playing a gangster accountant in a Hollywood film and joins them briefly to celebrate. And then there’s the stray young single who crewed a sailboat that took them for a harbor ride, but this movie isn’t really about men and women. It’s about these two guys, on a friendly road trip, just vacationing like we’re suspending all worries about international politics, global warming, economic oppression, civil strife, political posturing, the decline of organized religion, the demise of civilized urbanity, or even anything remotely serious and sobering. Let’s just take “The Trip to Italy” together and forget about everything else for a while.
When can we leave?
Ronald P. Salfen is the minister at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.