Yes, you would like a second helping. Director Michael Winterbottom and his two stars, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, aren’t really asking—they’re insisting you come along on their latest culinary adventure. First was the improv-laden BBC TV series, The Trip, condensed into a 2010 road-trip movie about two incompetent gourmands in the English Lake District. Another TV series followed; and hence their latest adventure in northern Italy, which faithfully follows formula: eat, kvetch, impersonate. (Inevitably, I suppose, their third trip will be to America.)
There aren’t many surprises here (and I’m a fan of the movie), but maybe in fine dining you don’t want surprises—certainly not at the four-star joints they’re visiting, not at these prices . . . well, the prices we’d pay if we followed their itinerary, which is awfully tempting: from Rome to Capri and the Amalfi coast. Part of the joke here is that Steve and Rob are both working-class blokes who’ll never be entirely comfortable with the posh life. (Coogan’s bigger in the U.S. and a huge star in the UK thanks to his Alan Partridge character.)
Coogan and Brydon are playing caricatures of themselves (who also co-starred in Winterbottom’s 2005 Tristram Shandy), not quite frenemies and not quite BFFs: two guys anxious about their personal and professional standing at midlife. Joking about the classical past and the stars of Hollywood’s golden age, they constantly worry how they’ll rate against the greats. Though it didn’t occur to me when I saw the movie during SIFF, their constant nattering about the permanence of art versus the fleeting pleasures of the now makes them fellow travellers with Toni Servillo in The Great Beauty. He could almost be their tour guide, and they need one.
Now I grant you that newbies may find less to appreciate in the dueling Roger Moore impressions and crushed hopes of middle age. This is not a comedy for the under-40 set. “Do you think everything’s melancholy when you get to a certain age?” asks Rob. Yes, and visits to Pompeii and a Neapolitan ossuary—where Steve quotes Hamlet’s “Where be your gibes now?” to Yorick’s skull—are downright somber. Still, the gorgeous locations and food may inspire happy travels of your own. Go while you’ve got time remaining. Opens Fri., Aug. 29 at Sundance Cinemas and SIFF Cinema Uptown. Not rated. 108 minutes.