Every week new original films debut on Netflix, Hulu and other digital services, often films with a modest budget and limited fanfare. Cinemastream is the series by Vox that highlights the most notable of these premieres, in an ongoing effort to keep interesting and easily accessible new films on your radar.
The trip to Greece
The premise: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon travel to Greece for a week of sunshine, good food, trying to make each other laugh and drive each other crazy. But as with the three previous ones trip movies, something more serious lurks beneath the surface.
What matters: The trip to Greece is the fourth (and perhaps last) in a series of films in which Coogan and Brydon choose a destination and eat extravagantly for a week, explore the countryside and have fun. (The movies are actually edited and include movie length versions from a BBC TV series.) In the 2010 movie, simply titled The journey, they went to Northern England. In 2014 they went to Italy; in 2017 they went to Spain.
The pair are ostensibly on a mission to ‘revise’ the restaurants, but that conceit is less pronounced in the movies than it is in the show, especially as the series has continued. Instead, the pieces of food and wine and comedy are part of a story of discovery and sometimes disturbing reflections on life, love and regret.
Coogan and Brydon both play exaggerated versions of themselves, men who have lived roughly the same lives as the real Coogan and Brydon but who tend towards caricatures. Coogan – a comedian released in the decade since the first film, has seen his international profile emerge as a comedic and dramatic actor – plays a cocky and self-centered heterosexual man with the antics of cut-up Brydon. Coogan is far more successful internationally than Brydon (Brydon is a well-known face on British TV; in The trip to Greece, Coogan calls him a “light entertainer”). The “Steve Coogan” of the trip series is haunted by regret in his personal life, while Brydon enjoys his happy marriage and two children.
While comparing their past and possible futures always part of the trip series, The trip to Greece is more interested in mortality than its predecessors. Brydon and Coogan follow in Odysseus’ footsteps, from Troy to Ithaca, spewing Greek mythical trivia alongside jokes about “The Poetics, by Ari Stottle” and dueling impressions from everyone from Marlon Brando to Dustin Hoffman to Werner Herzog. Brydon cautiously pampers Coogan’s selfish attitude about his role in the 2018 movie Stan & Ollie. They eat delicious meals on beautiful banks. At night, they retire to their individual rooms, where Brydon calls his wife and Coogan calls his son, who watches Coogan’s father’s deteriorating health.
Of all four trip movies, The trip to Greece – although it sometimes sniffs through your nose – it plays most like a drama. Apt maybe; the pair often talk about Greece as the birthplace of theater, and Coogan desperately wants to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor. And this more serious turn is not undesirable. It’s where the series has ridden for the past 10 years.
That is also a good reason not watch The trip to Greece if you haven’t seen the other three in the series yet; it feels more like a series finale than a standalone movie. (All of them are delightful, so if you haven’t seen them, start from the beginning – you get a treat!) Taken together, the films are a meditation on middle age and mortality, on how our irrevocable life choices, even if they are the right ones will haunt us for the rest of our lives. When speaking of the Greek gods, Coogan notes that they are all fallible and imperfect – it is implicit, just like us. But sometimes it takes a trip from home to realize who we really are.
Critical consensus: The trip to Greece has collected praise from critics. At the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday writes that “They’ve constructed a world between them, a light-hearted, reality-bordering universe evoked in billowing clouds of humor, inactive observations, passive-aggressive feints, and silent, lonely reflections.”