This upcoming week, after returning home from being out of town, I’m looking forward to seeing The Trip to Italy, the sequel to Michael Winterbottom’s gut-wrenchingly funny and unexpectedly poignant, The Trip (2010) starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, as themselves. But I’m nervous. I’m nervous that it will be a disappointment; a rehashed, overdone, paler reflection of what made the original so good. A spontaneous-feeling effort, The Trip was a genuine surprise. Marketed as nothing more than a comedy surrounding two friends making celebrity impressions and eating delicious food (which it definitely is in many ways), it becomes a meditation on friendship, fatherhood, and a reconciliation of aging.
It’s simple. It’s effective. And it brings me back to my first point. I would be excited to see this, not only happen again, but also be expanded. The reason I find myself loving “good” TV, is because I become attached to characters. I want to see them every week. I want to spend more time with Coogan and Brydon as these characters. Yet precedence has told me, this won’t be the case. My expectations have been systematically lowered by an industry that fears risk, rewards orthodoxy, and repeats its successes ad nauseum until they become its failures.
In May 2013, the New York Times published an article entitled, “Solving Equation of a Hit Film Script, with Data.” The articles focuses on a former statistics professor named Vinny Bruzzese, who, for $20,000 a pop will analyze a screenplay and run it through a series of tests. Bruzzese uses focus groups and compares the content of the script with the generated revenue of similar pre-existing films. The article cites things as specific as bowling scenes and summoned demons as determined factors in box-office duds. This development is perhaps inevitable in a world where facebook silently rummages through a person’s search history in order to gear advertisements to them or where all conversational questions can be quelled with the browsing of various apps and the internet on an iPhone. We’ve killed the element of surprise, and by proxy, the artistry that comes with it.
I’ve grown up in a time where people and writers alike have criticized my generation (i.e. the millennials, as every piece on the subject is quick to prescribe) as the harbingers of the apocalypse, the picture of laziness, indulgence, and detachment. It is with these frustrating articles in reference that I do not mean for this post to be preachy or curmudgeony. It is only to say, that as we turn to the film industry, an industry that is undeniably under more financial pressure than most art forms, that we acknowledge it will not be saved by safety but by revolution. As movies subscribe to Bruzzese’s formulas and become increasingly homogenized, we must ask ourselves do we want to recreate hits or do we want to spearhead unforeseen innovations?
If the industry is drowning, I’d rather try to swim than wait for a lifeboat that may never come. The Trip modestly proved that this revolution is possible. I’ll have to wait until next week to see if The Trip to Italy can continue the fight.