Once more, into the brie -- or, in this case, the Manchego. For the third time, now, for Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, it's the feast as improv proving ground, the sumptuous meal as arena of competitive discernment: Who can better parse and parody the particularities of some beloved British film actor? And, most crucially, Michael Winterbottom's The Trip to Spain is a breezy study of aging men afraid they've lost their potency, their command of life, their once-certain enshrinement in the culture. It is at once a desperate echo of long-gone glories and a glory itself.
As Coogan and Brydon, again playing fictionalized riffs of themselves, chow up and down Spain's Mediterranean Coast, striving to find new crowd-pleasing bits to perform over lunch, the film continually reminds us that these men haven't quite become all that they expected to. They pant and puff on an uphill bike ride; Coogan takes phone calls from his new American agent, who thinks of him as an afterthought; they sing from Man of La Mancha with what seems to be personal understanding of Don Quixote's failure to achieve heroic greatness. Sometimes they evince awareness that such heroism is an impossible dream, for anyone, but they still look a little glum about having persisted into their 50s without becoming whatever one thing more it is that wealthy film and TV stars (and writers) aspire to.
They bite into delicacies just as they always have and seem to wonder, "Is this all there is?" And audiences either laugh along or scream, "Isn't it enough, you yutzes?" or, in my case, both.