Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

"Very Good"

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story Review


At one point during Michael Winterbottom's shambolically hilarious Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, a film about trying to film the legendarily unfilmmable 18th century novel, Steve Coogan says to a reporter that the wonderful thing about Laurence Sterne's book (which he obviously hasn't read) is how ahead of its time it was, that it was "a postmodern novel... before there was a modernism... to be post of." It's a throwaway line in some respects, but it's an excellent example of the layered absurdist humor that abounds within its wonderfully loose format. This is a film about ego, the fatal inability of people to plan their lives, and the delirious chaos of the creative process. It's also about what utter jerks movie stars can be, God bless 'em.

Sterne's novel is a big old mess and has never been quite accepted in the literary canon. Published in nine installments over a decade, it's a subplot-mad, diversion-crazed bildungsroman where the narrator - Shandy - can't even get past describing his own birth by the end of the book, due to his tendency to go off on tangents. Along the way it packs in satires of contemporary intellectuals like Pope and Locke and plays with the novelistic form, including even having one page printed entirely black to represent sorrow at a character's death. They try that in the film, but then realize it's not quite so interesting for audience.

Coogan plays himself in this film, having been cast in the lead role, and at first we see him (sort of) in character, walking the audience through the set-up for Shandy's birth (he plays not only Shandy here but also Shandy's father, it's can all get quite tangled) and commenting liberally on everything going on. We're far from Winterbottom's verite stylings, used to such limited effect in 9 Songs, and much closer to the anarchic, third wall-busting joyousness of 24 Hour Party People, the film that wrote Coogan's ticket to Hollywood.

After setting the stage for us, Coogan is free to play more or less himself, the actor Coogan who has made it - to an extent - in Hollywood now and sees himself quite above this farcical, low-budget costume drama. To that end, he tries endlessly to berate and show up his costar (a riotous Rob Brydon), even forcing the costume department to modify his shoes to make him taller. The excellent Jeremy Northam and Ian Hart are on hand to play the director and screenwriter, neither of whom seem to be able to make much headway with reining in this sprawling book which is itself an ode to the unplannable chaos of life.

Amidst all the ever-so British embarrassment comedy and the backstage drama - Coogan's girlfriend and child are on set, though he's in the midst of a serious flirtation with a beautiful production assistant - there can actually be found some very smart commentary on the filmmaking process. As the creative team, actors, and financial backers watch footage and argue about the story, we see people wrestling not just with how to tell a story but trying to find out what the story even is, whether it's worth telling or if the whole endeavor is pointless.

None of these questions weigh down this swift piece of work for a second, however, showing that it's far from impossible to be thoughtful and provocative without sacrificing a sense of humor. Plus, Tristram Shandy includes a scene where Coogan is lowered upside-down into a massive, glistening pink artificial womb to deliver one of his monologues. Sterne would likely have approved.

Reviewed at the 2005 New York Film Festival.

More bull!



Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

Facts and Figures

Run time: 94 mins

In Theaters: Friday 20th January 2006

Box Office USA: $1.1M

Distributed by: Picturehouse

Production compaines: HBO Films, Prescience Film Fund

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Fresh: 111 Rotten: 12

IMDB: 6.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Tristram Shandy / Walter Shandy / himself, as Capt. Toby Shandy / himself, as Elizabeth Shandy / herself, as Susannah / herself, as Trim, Conal Murphy as Tristam Shandy, 6 years, Joe Williams as Tristam Shandy, 9 years, Paul Kynman as Obadiah, as London doctor, as Dr Slop, Mary Healey as Midwife, Jack Shepherd as Surgeon, as Parson, as Mark, as Ed, as Jennie, Claire Keelan as Make-up Assistant, as Jenny, Mark Hadfield as Leo, as Debbie, as Ingoldsby, Jenny Ogilvie as Sandy, Tony Wilson as TV Interviewer (as Anthony H. Wilson), Justine Mitchell as Tony's Director, as Gary, as Adrian, as Lindsey, as Simon, as Joe, as Anita, as Greg, Paul Rider as Prop Guy, as Patrick Curator / Parson Yorick, as Joanna, as Widow Wadman, Stephen Rodrick as New York Times Reporter, as Sound Mixer, Rosie Cavaliero as Rachel, Damon Caliendo as Fire Dancer, Andy Callaghan as Playing Film Crew, Richard Tree as Redcoat Officer

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

The Party Movie Review

The Party Movie Review

Comedies don't get much darker than this pitch-black British movie, written and directed by Sally...

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) is on his way to becoming the new Woody Allen, which...

6 Below Movie Review

6 Below Movie Review

Based on an astonishing true survival story, this film is subtitled "Miracle on the Mountain",...

Mother Movie Review

Mother Movie Review

Darren Aronofsky doesn't make fluffy movies, and has only had one genuine misfire (2014's Noah)....

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

It's been 35 years since Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic, which was set in 2019....

On the Road Movie Review

On the Road Movie Review

Wolf Alice fans are likely to be rather disappointed by this hybrid documentary-drama about the...

Borg/McEnroe Movie Review

Borg/McEnroe Movie Review

Skilfully made by Swedish filmmaker Janus Metz (the award-winning Armadillo), this film is essentially a...

Advertisement
The Glass Castle Movie Review

The Glass Castle Movie Review

There are quite a few terrific moments in this true story, based on the memoir...

Home Again Movie Review

Home Again Movie Review

Reese Witherspoon is so likeable that she can carry even the most hackneyed of romantic...

Brimstone Movie Review

Brimstone Movie Review

An unnerving Western with a sharp female perspective, this film is a series of gruesome...

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Movie Review

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Movie Review

Two years ago, Kingsman: The Secret Service seemed to come out of nowhere, ruffling feathers...

Goodbye Christopher Robin Movie Review

Goodbye Christopher Robin Movie Review

This biopic about Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne may look like the usual lushly...

Wind River Movie Review

Wind River Movie Review

After writing the superb Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan moves back into...

The Vault Movie Review

The Vault Movie Review

Filmmakers Dan Bush and Conal Byrne attempt a mash-up of a frantic heist movie with...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.