TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY
The 18th century Gentleman Tristram Shandy (Steve Coogan) is attempting to tell his life story, complete with excursions to other stories, in a film being made, starring Steve Coogan (Steve Coogan), directed by Mark (Jeremy Northam). The filming continues in chaotic parallel as Coogan grows increasingly insecure, journalists chase scandal, and the demands of filmmaking intrude on what is already a hectic story of Tristram and his dad Walter (Steve Coogan), an intellectually inclined and rather modern man who wants to take care of every aspect of his son's existence, from his birth onwards.
Review by Louise Keller:
A bawdy, irreverent romp that dips its toe into the past and the present as it attempts to make a film about the past, Tristram Shandy offers a little cock and plenty of bull. Confused? Of course you are. Yet filmmaker Michael Winterbottom manages to separate the strands of what is real from what is not, with adept, satirical delicacy.
From the very first scene when we meet Steve Coogan sitting in the make up chair with prosthetics on his nose, having a jive with Rob Brydon, it is clear that there are a few winks and nudges in store. Coogan and Brydon are playing themselves, who in turn are playing actors making a period film about Laurence Sterne's unfilmable autobiographical novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. The crunch of the film lies in the cross over between reality, fiction and the parallels between the characters in both past and present. The story about 18th century Tristram Shandy leapfrogs back and forth in time until we can be forgiven for feeling slightly dizzy. To add to the complexity, Coogan also plays the role of Tristram's father Walter, whose philosophies about being a father are a sharp contrast with his own (in his guise as actor), as proud father to a new baby boy.
This is Coogan at his impertinent best, almost daring us to come along for the ride. There are some wonderfully funny moments, including the sight of Coogan (as yet-to-be-born Shandy) hanging upside down in a synthetic, see-through man-made womb. There are issues of infidelity, media expose, fatherhood and professional rivalries, as well as battle scars, a primitive forceps delivery and a mishap involving a little boy who pees out the window before it slam-drops shut unexpectedly.
Adventurous, ambitious and downright quirky, this will appeal to those who revel in more than a little bite in their humour.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Only a supremely confident filmmaker would attempt the double helix of setting a fake and funny 18th century autobiography inside a contemporary filmmaking venture. Michael Winterbottom approaches the task with zest, and for the first half, more than gets away with this audacious, device-driven work.
Steve Coogan is the perfect choice to play an insecure actor; not because Steve Coogan is insecure, but because he knows his art and craft extremely well. See him in Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party people if you need convincing. He is required to play Tristram Shandy, Tristram's father Walter and Steve Coogan the actor who is playing those characters in the film adaptation of Stern's novel. The cracking pace, the crackling quips and the scenario itself is wonderfully juggled, but the film loses that level of engagement in the second half, when it becomes a pointy satire about the filmmaking process itself.
While accurate enough, the barbs are only effective for a while; but it's all a bit too 'in'. There is mention in the notes to the film how at one point during production, a real doco crew from The South Bank Show in the UK was filming the real film crew that was filming a fictitious DVD crew working on the Tristram Shandy DVD, and the fake crew was led by the real Tony Wilson, who was interviewing his movie alter-ego, Steve Coogan. This is the sort of thing that appeals to those in the know, but tends to lose audiences.
All the same, it is refreshingly unique and the comedy cuts close enough to the bone to be effective.
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TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY (M)
CAST: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Raymond Waring, Dylan Moran, Keeley Hawes, Gillian Anderson, Naomi Harris, Kelly Macdonald, Jeremy Northam, James Fleet, Ian Hart, Shirley Henderson, Stephen Fry
PRODUCER: Andrew Eaton
DIRECTOR: Michael Winterbottom
SCRIPT: Martin Hardy aka Frank Cottrell Boyce (novel by Laurence Stern)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Marcel Zyskind
EDITOR: Peter Christelis
MUSIC: Edward Nogria, J. S. Bach (Michael Nyman, Nino Rota)
PRODUCTION DESIGN: John Paul Kelly
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 29, 2006
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
VIDEO RELEASE: December 26, 2006