Every week, new original films debut on Netflix, Hulu, and other digital services, often films with modest budgets and limited fanfare. Cinemastream is Vox’s series highlighting 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 driving one another mad. But as with the three previous Trip films, something more serious lurks beneath the surface.
What it’s about: The Trip to Greece is the fourth (and maybe final) in a series of films in which Coogan and Brydon choose a destination and set out for a week of eating extravagantly, touring the countryside, and having some fun. (The films are actually edited-down, feature film-length versions of a BBC TV series.) In the 2010 film, simply titled The Trip, they went to northern England. In 2014, they went to Italy; in 2017, they went to Spain.
Ostensibly the pair is on a mission to “review” the restaurants, but that conceit is less pronounced in the films than it is on the show, especially as the series has continued. Instead, the food and wine and comedy bits are part of a tale of discovery and, at times, disquieting reflections on life, love, and regrets.
Coogan and Brydon both play exaggerated versions of themselves, men who’ve lived roughly the same lives as the real Coogan and Brydon but who are leaning into caricatures. Coogan — a comedian who, in the decade since the first movie came out, has seen his international profile rise as both a comic and dramatic actor — plays a conceited and self-centered straight man to the antics of cut-up Brydon. Coogan is much more internationally successful than Brydon (Brydon is a familiar face on British TV; in The Trip to Greece, Coogan keeps calling him a “light entertainer”). The “Steve Coogan” of the Trip series is haunted by regrets in his personal life, while Brydon enjoys his happy marriage and two children.
While comparing their pasts and possible futures has always been part of the Trip series, The Trip to Greece is more interested in mortality than its predecessors have been. Brydon and Coogan follow in the steps of Odysseus, from Troy to Ithaca, spouting Greek myth trivia alongside jokes about “The Poetics, by Ari Stottle” and dueling impressions of everyone from Marlon Brando to Dustin Hoffman to Werner Herzog. Brydon gently ribs Coogan’s self-serious demeanor about his role in the 2018 film Stan & Ollie. They eat beautiful meals near beautiful shores. At night, they retire to their individual rooms, where Brydon calls his wife and Coogan calls his son, who is monitoring Coogan’s father’s deteriorating health.
Of all four Trip films, The Trip to Greece — while certainly snort-through-your-nose funny at times — plays most like a drama. Apt, perhaps; the pair frequently talks about Greece as the birthplace of theater, and Coogan is desperate to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor. And this more serious turn is not unwelcome. It’s where the series has been driving for the past 10 years.
It’s also a good reason to not watch The Trip to Greece if you haven’t seen the other three in the series; it feels more like a series finale than a standalone film. (They’re all delightful, so if you haven’t seen them, start at the beginning — you’re in for a treat!) Taken together, the movies are a meditation on middle age and mortality, on how our irrevocable life choices, even when they’re the right ones, will haunt us for the rest of our lives. When Coogan talks of the Greek gods, he notes that they’re all fallible and imperfect — just, it’s implied, like us. But sometimes it takes a trip away from home for us to realize who we really are.
Critical consensus: The Trip to Greece has garnered praise from critics. At the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday writes that “they’ve constructed a world between them, an airy, reality-adjacent universe conjured in billowing clouds of witticisms, idle observations, passive-aggressive feints and silent, solitary reflections.”