Review: ‘The Trip to Greece,’ starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon

May 23, 2020

by Carla Hay

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in “The Trip to Greece” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“The Trip to Greece”

Directed by Michael Winterbottom

Culture Representation: Taking place in Greece and briefly in Turkey, the comedy “The Trip to Greece” has a predominantly white cast (with some Asian representation) representing the middle-class and upper-class.

Culture Clash: Two British actors/comedians take a trip to Greece, where they sometimes argue over history, culture and their status in the entertainment industry.

Culture Audience: “The Trip to Greece” will appeal mostly to people who are fans of “The Trip” movie series and witty, Anglo-centric comedy.

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in “The Trip to Greece” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

When British actors/comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon made the 2010 TV comedy series “The Trip,” which was later edited into the 2011 feature film “The Trip,” they probably didn’t expect at the time that it would turn into a series of feature films, all directed by Michael Winterbottom. What followed were 2014’s “The Trip to Italy,” 2017’s “The Trip to Spain” and 2020’s “The Trip to Greece.” Each film centers on a series of lively semi-improvised conversations that Coogan and Brydon (who play versions of themselves) have in a different country while going to historical places and eating at different restaurants. (They visited northern England in “The Trip.”)

“The Trip to Greece” will please fans of “The Trip” movie series, but it should also win over new fans, especially if people like jokes filled with back-and-forth banter, deliberately cheesy puns and dueling celebrity impersonations. That’s the signature comedy of Coogan and Brydon when they’re together in “The Trip” movies, which also feature the two entertainers eating sumptuous meals in gorgeous locations.

People don’t have to see the previous “Trip” movies to enjoy “The Trip to Greece,” but it helps if you want a better understanding of the main characters in the series. Coogan and Brydon are not best friends, but they are friendly enough with each other that they call on each other when one of them has an assignment to travel somewhere outside of London and get paid to write about their trip, either for a newspaper article or for a book. Each trip lasts for six days.

As is the case with many comedy duos, the two comedians are opposites in several ways. Coogan and Brydon were both born in the same year (1965), but Coogan is the “alpha male” of the pair. He likes to remind Brydon in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that he’s the more famous and more commercially successful of the two. A running joke in “The Trip” movies is Coogan frequently mentioning the prestigious awards he’s been nominated for or won.

Coogan, a Manchester native, also considers himself to be more sophisticated and more intelligent than Wales native Brydon, who is the more easygoing one of the pair. Although they are both fathers, their personal lives are also very different: Brydon is happily married and didn’t start a family until he was in his 40s (he has a 10-year daughter and a 4-year-old son in the movie), while Coogan is a womanizing divorcé whose kids are all grown up by the time this story takes place. (Brydon’s and Coogan’s families in “The Trip” movie series are also fictionalized.)

In “The Trip to Greece,” Coogan’s plan is to do an accelerated recreation of Odysseus’ journey in “The Odyssey” for a book that he’s been commissioned to write. His book publisher wants to tie in the story of “The Odyssey” into Coogan’s personal odyssey in the entertainment business. The two pals start their trip in Turkey, where their needling banter immediately begins. When Brydon tells Coogan that the book’s concept will just be ripping off “The Odyssey,” Coogan curtly replies, “Originality is overrated.”

While in Turkey, a very meta moment comes when a man named Kareem (played by Kareem Alkabbani), who’s dining outside at a restaurant, recognizes Coogan as Coogan and Brydon are about to drive off in their rental car. In real life, Alkabbani had a small supporting role as a Syrian refugee in the 2020 film “Greed,” which starred Coogan and was directed by Winterbottom. In “Greed,” Coogan played a billionaire throwing a 60th birthday party for himself on the Greek island of Mykonos.

In “The Trip to Greece,” the Kareem character stops Coogan and tells him that it’s nice to see him again since they worked each other in Mykonos. At first Coogan doesn’t recognize Kareem, but then he remembers the role that Kareem played in the movie. Although the title of the movie is not mentioned in “The Trip to Greece,” fans of Coogan will know that they are talking about “Greed.”

Kareem asks Coogan and Brydon for a ride to a Syrian refugee camp. Brydon doesn’t think they have time, but Coogan is happy to oblige the request. After Coogan and Brydon drop off Kareem at the refugee camp and mention how horrible it must be to live there, Brydon asks Coogan if he remembers Kareem’s name. Coogan tries to pretend that he does, but he can’t remember, but Brydon does. This scene demonstrates the contrast between the two men, as Coogan is shown to be very self-absorbed, while Brydon is the more empathetic of the two men.

Throughout the course of the movie, Coogan and Brydon visit Temple of Apollo at Delphi, the Ancient Agora of Athens, the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, the island of Hydra, the Caves of Diros, Nestor’s Palace, Niokastro Fortress in Pylos and Ancient Stagira. As for the restaurants, they include Squirrel in Halkidiki; Karagatsi in Damouchari; Varoulko Seaside in Piraeus; Omilos in Hydra; and Pirgus Mavromichali in Limeni.

Singing pop tunes while driving in a car is another characteristic of “The Trip” movies. In “The Trip to Greece,” Coogan (who always drives) gets visibly annoyed when Brydon begins singing Frankie Valli’s “Grease” from the “Grease” movie soundtrack.

Coogan asks Brydon, “Are you singing ‘Grease’ because we’re in Greece?” Brydon replies, “When I’m in Greece, I hear the word ‘grease’ and I think ‘Grease.'” Coogan then says, “Yeah, but it’s not the same thing. It’s a homophone.” Brydon responds, “How dare you! I’m not a homophone! I’m a heterosexual!”

“The Trip to Greece,” just like the previous “Trip” movies, also features a visit from Coogan’s personal assistant Emma (played by Claire Keelan) and London-based Spanish photographer Yolanda (played by Marta Barrio), who’s an on-again/off-again sexual fling for Coogan. Emma and Yolanda are briefly on each trip to do a photo shoot with Coogan and Brydon. In “The Trip to Greece,” the photo shoot includes the two comedians posing with gold-plated sock and buskin masks (the symbols of comedy and tragedy) on handles. And not surprisingly, when it’s mentioned how the masks resemble BAFTA trophies, a pompous Coogan uses it as another opportunity to remind everyone how many BATFAs he’s won.

As for the celebrity impersonations that people have come to expect in “The Trip” films, Coogan and Brydon once again have dueling impressions of Michael Caine and Roger Moore. There are also spoofs of Ian McKellen, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Ray Winstone, Laurence Olivier, Dustin Hoffman, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Werner Herzog.

A discussion about Alexander the Great being a gangster of ancient times leads into “Godfather” imitations of Brando and De Niro. And then Coogan goes off on a hilarious satire of Henry VIII in a Winstone mobster voice. Later in the film, a discussion about Olivier than veers into Coogan and Brydon doing voice parodies of Hoffman’s roles in “The Graduate,” “Midnight Cowboy,” “Tootsie” and “Rain Man.”

But the most stinging takedown is about Jagger. The two comedians poke fun at the Rolling Stones singer for still fathering children in his 70s—in 2016, Jagger’s eighth child was born when he was 73—as well Jagger’s heart surgery in 2019 that caused a Rolling Stones tour to be postponed. There’s a fairly lengthy bit where Coogan and Brydon do a satire of what Jagger would have been like as a hospital patient, and the comedians also marvel at how Jagger was able to recover so well from the surgery.

Brydon quips about Jagger becoming a father again at an age when most people are grandparents or great-grandparents: “Pretty soon, he’ll be the only man in Britain with an earlier bedtime than his child.” Brydon also takes a jab at Rolling Stones guitarist Richards, by imitating the rock star’s throaty laugh, which sounds like a lifetime accumulation of cigarettes, drugs and alcohol. Dyron says of Richards’ signature guffaw: “When he laughs, it’s like the last death throes of Muttley.”

Getting older and mortality are noticeable themes throughout “The Trip to Greece,” as Brydon and Coogan have conversations reassuring themselves that they’re in their prime, compared to the senior-citizen-age entertainers whom they love to imitate. But underneath their bravado, Brydon and Coogan also convey insecurity and dread about what getting older means for their careers. (In “The Trip to Greece,” Coogan is distressed over being recently rejected for a film by Oscar-winning “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle.)

There were hints of that self-doubt in previous “The Trip” films, as womanizer Coogan openly lamented to Brydon about how women don’t look at him the same way as they did when he was younger, so he uses his fame to maximum advantage in order to attract women. And all “The Trip” movies in the series have Coogan being insecure about people thinking he might be gay, since he often makes jokes or reminds everyone in his orbit that he’s heterosexual. (In the first “Trip,” Coogan openly expresses fear and discomfort at the possibility of sharing a bed with Brydon, when there’s a possibility that have to sleep in the same hotel room after a booking mix-up.)

In “The Trip to Greece,” the need to reaffirm their virility and masculinity is even more pronounced, as Brydon and Coogan have a swimming race against each other at one of Greece’s scenic cliffside locales. It’s partly to impress three swimsuit-clad young women who are sunning themselves nearby, but it’s also so Brydon and Coogan can prove something to themselves—that they’ve still “got it” and aren’t over-the-hill old coots.

“The Trip to Greece” isn’t all fun and games, since there are some serious elements to all of the “Trip” films that address issues of deep fears and insecurities. Each movie includes dreams (that are sometimes nightmares) that Coogan and Bryon have while they’re on each trip. These dreams usually have to do with how others perceive them, what they wish would happen, or what they want their legacies to be.

“The Trip” series also shows how each man’s personality and personal choices have affected their lives at home. The previous “Trip” movies showed glimpses of the contrasts in Coogan’s and Brydon’s home lives, even down to the cinematography for each. Brydon’s happy home life with his wife Sally (played by Rebecca Johnson) is lit in warm and inviting colors. Coogan, despite having an active love life, can often be standoffish and dismissive, which is why he ultimately ends up alone at his cold and sterile home.

“The Trip to Greece” is the most poignant film of the series because it shows how Coogan has to come to grips with how his life choices have affected his family. While he’s on the trip, he’s frequently in contact by phone with his 20-year-old son Joe (played by Tim Leach), who’s in Manchester with Coogan’s ex-wife Katherine (played by Cordelia Bugeja), as they keep vigil over Coogan’s ailing father. And if you’re familiar with “The Odyssey,” then you’ll know there are obvious parallels to that story and the concept of a father coming home to his son after a long time away.

On the surface, “The Trip” movies seem like two guys making jokes and sometimes bickering while they get to frolic around glamorous locations and dine at fancy restaurants during an all-expenses paid trip. But “The Trip to Greece” is also really a commentary on the fact that even privileged people can’t escape from personal problems while away from home on a swanky getaway. How to cope with those issues is the real challenge once the trip is over.

IFC Films released “The Trip to Greece” on digital and VOD on May 22, 2020.

Review: ‘Greed,’ starring Steve Coogan, David Mitchell and Isla Fisher

February 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

Steve Coogan in "Greed"
Steve Coogan in “Greed” (Photo by Amelia Troubridge)

“Greed” 

Directed by Michael Winterbottom

Culture Representation: Taking place in England, Sri Lanka and the Greek island of Mykonos, the dark satirical comedy “Greed” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Southeast Asians and Syrians) representing the rich, middle-class and poor.

Culture Clash: “Greed” takes a scathing look at a ruthless billionaire retail mogul and the exploitation of poor laborers who helped build his empire.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to people who like comedies that address issues about social classes and poke fun at rich people, but the film overstuffs the story with too many flashbacks and distracting subplots.

Steve Coogan in “Greed” (Photo by Amelia Troubridge)

On the surface, “Greed” (written and directed by Michael Winterbottom) might give the most screen time to the pompous billionaire who’s the central character, but the movie’s heart really lies with the anonymous laborers who are exploited to make this arrogant mogul (and others just like him) wealthy and mostly able to dodge accountability. The story, which is a dark satire, centers on British billionaire Sir Richard McCreadie (played by Steve Coogan), who has made his fortune with an empire of discount clothing stores whose chief rivals are H&M and Zara. He is so proud of being a ruthless businessman that he’s created a nickname for himself: “Greedy McCreadie.”

About half of the movie shows Richard on the Greek island of Mykonos, where he’s planning a lavish, star-studded 60th birthday party that will have a Roman toga theme. Things aren’t going so well, since the small amphitheater being constructed for the party probably won’t be finished in time. Many of the invited celebrity guests are canceling or declining their invitations. And the party is really a distraction from the Parliamentary inquiry that McCreadie has had to answer to about allegations of his company’s corruption and improper use of funds.

If you think all of this sounds like Sir Philip Green, the British billionaire founder of Arcadia Group (the parent company of Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Outfit and many more clothing stores), you would be right. Green went through a scandalous Parliamentary hearing in 2018 over mishandling of pension funds. That same year, a member of Parliament also named Green as someone with numerous employee accusations of racism and sexual harassment, with the complaints settled out of court. Winterbottom says that although Green inspired many aspects of “Greed,” the movie isn’t about him, and the Richard McCreadie character is a composite of billionaire moguls.

Greedy McCreadie has an orange-tinted fake tan, super-white dental veneers and a cocaine-snorting, supermodel trophy girlfriend named Naomi (played by Shanina Shaik), who’s young enough to be his daughter. He’s narcissistic, he judges people’s worth by how much money they have, and he treats people like disposable pawns in a game of chess.

In other words, he’s the epitome of what people despise about the type of super-rich people who think they’re cool but they’re actually superficial jerks. His 60th birthday party will be an ostentatious display of wealth. The event planner Melanie (played by Sarah Solemani) tells Richard that the party will be like “The Great Gatsby” meets “Gladiator” meets “The Godfather”—and Richard loves the idea.

And just like many billionaires, Richard wants to surround himself with celebrities. Melanie’s main job is to wrangle in as many famous people as possible to attend the party. She and Richard go down a list of possible performers in a somewhat hilarious takedown of what real-life celebrities charge for personal appearance fees. (Richard is appalled that Shakira charges as much as Elton John, and he’s thrilled that Tom Jones’ fee is a bargain in comparison.) There’s enough name dropping in this movie to fill the half-finished amphitheater for the party, which has a caged lion on display.

Several real-life celebs (mostly British) make cameos in the film, including Stephen Fry and Fatboy Slim, who are actually at the party. Most of the other stars—including Keira Knightley, Colin Firth and Coldplay’s Chris Martin—appear via video messages where they wish Richard a happy birthday. And when Richard thinks that not enough celebrities will be at the party, Richard gives Melanie the go-ahead to hire celebrity impersonators. One of the movie’s funniest scenes is when the fake celebs are gathered in a dressing room at the party and get various levels of approval by Richard.

The movie begins on a somewhat jarring note, with a celebrity cameo whose life came to a tragic end in real life. The opening scene is of Richard at a company event where he’s giving out awards to employees. The host of the award ceremony is British TV presenter Caroline Flack, who in real life tragically died by committing suicide at the age of 40 on February 15, 2020. At the ceremony, Richard announces that he’s giving a huge chunk of his company dividends to his ex-wife Samantha (played by Isla Fisher), making it the largest dividend payout from a privately held company.

Samantha (who is the mother of the youngest of Richard’s three kids) is among the family members who will be at Richard’s 60th birthday bash. They include his domineering widowed mother Margaret (played by Shirley Henderson); his insecure teenage son named Finn (played by Asa Butterfield); and his spoiled 20-something daughter Lily (played by Sophie Cookson). Richard has another child, a pouty son in his 20s named Adrian (played by Matt Bentley), who shows up later in the story. Samantha has also brought her much-younger lover named François (Christophe de Choisy) to the party.

Richard’s entourage includes his vapid girlfriend Naomi and his kind-hearted and hard-working personal assistant Amanda (played by Dinita Gohil), who’s risen to this position after starting off as a factory employee for his company. She’s part of a subplot involving extremely underpaid workers (most of them women) in Sri Lanka who make the clothes that Richard’s company sells.

Richard’s official biographer Nick (played by David Mitchell), who’s an opportunistic journalist, is also tagging along at the party. Half of the time, Nick wonders what he’s gotten himself into with this assignment, because he’s witnessing some very unflattering things about Richard that would be tricky to put in the biography. Richard is essentially the Boss From Hell, who does a lot of yelling and hurling of insults when things don’t go his way. He’s also the type of toxic head honcho who will demand that things be done a certain way, forget that it was his decision, and then blame it on someone else if things go wrong.

Although “Greed” might sound like a clever concept to expose the corrupt side of the fashion industry, the execution of the idea is unfortunately a little too haphazard and overstuffed. There are so many flashbacks in the movie, that even the flashbacks have flashbacks. They include seeing how a young Richard (played by Jamie Blackley) went from being expelled from school at age 16 to becoming a hotshot and unscrupulous wheeler dealer in the discount fashion business.

Richard is a tough negotiator and he has no qualms about exploiting workers so he can get cheap labor and increase profits. There are also scenes of Richard facing the Parliament investigation into his shady business practices. Richard is almost proud of the fact that he gets people to invest millions in his companies, he keeps the profits, but then when the investors want their share of the profits, he shuts down the business by declaring bankruptcy.

There’s one scene where a female protestor crashes into the hearings and throws a pie in Richard’s face, which is an obvious spoof of what happened in real life to billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch in 2011, during his own Parliamentary hearing. Greedy McCreadie, ever the name dropper, tells Parliament that at least he’s more honest than Richard Branson and Bono when it comes to investors’ money.

And then the movie has subplots about other people during the party preparations in Mykonos. Several refugees from Syria have camped out at the public beach near the party site. Richard wants the refugees to move because he thinks they’ll ruin the party atmosphere. But since it’s a public beach, the refugees refuse to leave. But then, a plan is put in motion that will get them off the beach, by hiring the refugees as kitchen workers for the party.

Lily is a star of a reality show, so the TV cameras have followed her to Mykonos. The show’s annoying producers and director frequently bark orders at Lily, her TV boyfriend and her friends to redo their pre-fabricated scenes when the director needs another take. (This usually happens when someone who’s not part of the show’s cast “ruins” a shot by accidentally walking into a scene while filming.) One of the staged scenes includes Lily handing out food to the refugees to make her look charitable. But when the producers want her to film the scene again, she has to take back the food, which angers the refugees, who don’t know that they’re being used as part of the staged scene.

The movie also shows Richard’s difficult and complicated relationship with his youngest child Finn, who’s constantly seeking his father’s approval and attention and not getting much of either. Finn, who both admires and fears his father, gets a little bit of Oedipal revenge when he makes moves on Richard’s trophy girlfriend Naomi while Finn is high on some of her cocaine.

Meanwhile, Richard and his ex-wife Samantha clearly have unfinished personal business. When they’re alone together, they flirt and give each other loving kisses. Samantha also tries to be the “cool ex-wife” by being very friendly to Naomi, probably because she knows that Naomi is just a fling, while Samantha still has a hold on Richard because she’s a big part of his business and she’s the mother of one of his children.

And if all these shenanigans weren’t enough, during the party preparations, there are plenty of meltdowns from logistics coordinator Sam (played by Tim Key), who’s frantic about the amphitheater being finished on time, as well as issues with laborers who are unhappy with their wages and unrealistic time constraints.

In the production notes of “Greed,” Winterbottom says that when he was seeking financing for the movie, he told potential investors that the tone of “Greed” would be similar to “The Big Short,” writer/director Adam McKay’s 2015 Oscar-winning satire of Wall Street’s manipulation of the U.S. housing market. The biggest differences between “The Big Short” and “Greed” (besides “The Big Short” being a much-better movie) are that in “Greed,” there’s no breaking down of a fourth wall with characters talking directly to the viewers, and “Greed” tries to do too much with the characters in the story instead of keeping it more focused. This is supposed to be a movie, not a TV series.

Although there are some snappy and witty lines in “Greed,” the movie’s overall tone has the same smugness that it lampoons in Greedy McCreadie. The movie spends so much time inflating and skewering the super-rich and their flunkies that it feels almost like a pandering afterthought when the film tries to counterbalance the satire at the end, with sobering statistics about laborer exploitation in the fashion industry. The materialistic and selfish characters in “Greed” are like people who’ve overstayed their welcome at their own party. And viewers of this movie will find most of these characters so unappealing that they’ll be glad when this party is over.

Sony Pictures Classics released “Greed” in select U.S. cinemas on February 28, 2020.