Resolving Personal Struggles through Food: So Close, yet So Far
By Renuka Koilpillai
The film The Trip to Italy (dir. 2014 by Michael Winterbottom) grapples with the struggles of professional and personal fulfillment. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, both actors, have had trouble finding work and managing their family relationships. When tasked with touring Italy to review restaurants for a British newspaper, it appears that Coogan and Brydon use comedy disguises their unhappiness. The film takes careful effort directly to contrast the demeanor of the two main characters with the chefs and other diners of each restaurant they visit. By contrasting Coogan and Brydon’s behaviour to the passion-filled work of the chefs and the other gratified diners, the film accurately portrays Coogan and Brydon struggling with their lives while being surrounded by people who seem to content appreciating the food around them.
One of the most notable features of the film is the display of food preparation at each restaurant Coogan and Brydon visit. As the two characters sit at the table talking about their life, the camera often cuts to the kitchen to show the chefs preparing the food the two are about to eat. One prime example of this is during the last restaurant scene. During this meal, Coogan and Brydon are having a conversation with Emma and Joe about what their life is going to be like after this trip, specifically Brydon who is talking about an acting role he just landed. As this conversation takes place, the audience gets a few quick shots of the kitchen. In the first snippet of the kitchen, there is a low-angle shot of one chef calling out the orders that are ready to be served. This shot portrays the chef as completely enthralled in his work. Because these shots are parallel edited with Coogan and Brydon’s conversation, they stand in stark contrast to the conversation. For this particular scene, Brydon is trying to convince everyone that the role he just received is one of the leading parts of the film, suggesting that it’s really not and that Brydon is dissatisfied with it. This message is heightened by the shots of the chefs who seem to be so satisfied with their work.
Another aspect of the film that portrays Coogan and Brydon’s personal struggles is their demeanor compared to the other diners in the restaurants. The two main characters often do impressions of famous actors while they are eating. These impressions are over the top and very loud, especially compared to the other diners. One scene that illustrates this contrast is the scene at the first restaurant in Italy. Coogan and Brydon are suggesting future career projects when they start to joke. The jokes begin to take over the conversation and distract from the main topic of discussion. The camera cuts to frames of some other diners who appear to be quieter and focused on their food and the content of their conversation. One of the other diners has his hands raised as if he is explaining something and the others around him are nodding. The body language suggests that they are having a more thoughtful discussion. These contrasting behaviours suggest that Coogan and Brydon act as other people even during their real life in order to distract from their problems, while other diners seem to content by appreciating their food.
Coogan and Brydon reveal many personal and professional struggles throughout the movie that are mostly laughed away in order to avoid the fact that they are both losing touch with their careers and families. The film portrays this message through the people who surround them in restaurants. On one hand, the chefs are so captivated in their work, that their demeanor calls attention to Coogan and Brydon’s eccentric behaviour. Additionally, the diners’ behaviour also contrasts that of the main characters’ because their presence, expression, and focus suggest that they are happy because they are appreciating the simpler things in life like food.
The Trip to Italy. Dir. Michael Winterbottom. Perf. Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon. BBC Films, 2014. DVD