There’s one movie genre that people don’t talk about often enough: the hangout movie. Friday, Everybody Wants Some!!, and What We Do in the Shadows all won over fans through atmosphere and memorable characters rather than plot. Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, and director Michael Winterbottom have the hangout movie formula down to a fine art. The Trip to Spain marks the third installment in the trio’s European road trip series, and if you’ve watched the previous two films, then you know exactly what you’re in store for. If The Trip to Spain is your introduction to the series, then fret not – you don’t need to watch the last two films to enjoy Rob and Steve’s company.
The Trip to Spain has the same premise as The Trip and The Trip to Italy: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play slight variations of themselves, and they’re commissioned to head out on road trips and document the local pleasures. However, this time things get a really meta. In The Trip to Spain, Steve is riding the success of his critically acclaimed 2013 film, Philomena. As the more insecure man of the two, his recent success only makes him more neurotic. That’s about as close as the film gets to any plot-related conflict, which is fine; The Trip series doesn’t aim for Downton Abbey levels of intrigue. Instead, these films focus on two funny men enjoying great food, beautiful tourist spots, and occasionally each other’s company.
The Trip to Spain is the most eye-catching entry in the trilogy, as the duo travels across lush Spanish hillsides, bustling towns, and majestic castles. Dining plays a big role in the series, and the camera frequently cuts to inside busy kitchens, where chefs slave over the guys’ intricately-garnished dishes. While travelling between towns, the camera often falls back, reducing Rob and Steve to the size of ants as they cruise through breathtaking Spanish vistas. Cinematographer James Clarke captures the landscapes with so much vitality that the screen often feels like a portal into Spain’s countryside.
The Trip to Spain‘s structure doesn’t stray from past films, with most segments playing out like vignettes where the guys arrive at a new location, start a quirky conversation, then break into a bit. Sometimes these bits turn into pissing contests to see who has the better celebrity impression, with Brydon and Coogan knowing how to play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses, their rapport feeling effortless and unrehearsed. However, the movie is at its best when they’re riffing together rather than one-upping each other
Beneath the jokes, impressions, and vibrant Spanish landscapes runs a vein of melancholy. Rob the family man and Steve the lone wolf represent opposite sides of life’s two main roads. Steve is the more successful of the two, and also the most conflicted. After achieving quantifiable success in his career, he still craves recognition. The fleeting nature of success results in a cycle of Steve chasing more success, and thus making himself feel emptier. The film’s themes remind me of Netflix’s animated comedy, Bojack Horseman. Bojack Horseman looks silly and shallow from the outside, yet explores the awkward dance between success, depression, and isolation. While Steve isn’t as damaged as Bojack, both (horse)men struggle to understand that happiness and success aren’t one and the same.
I find it odd that the Trip movies exist, let alone have lasted long enough to form a trilogy. The Trip to Spain is such a pleasurable oddity that I can’t knock the series for recycling its simple formula. It’s a light and easy watch that clocks in at just under two hours, but breezes by. You won’t bust your gut laughing, but you’ll find yourself smirking as you spend time with these two oddballs. Winterbottom also smuggles in some interesting views on how success affects relationships and personal growth, but beyond all that, The Trip to Spain is a fun summer hang.