A Cock and Bull Story US title: Tristram Shandy
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Michael Winterbottom
scr Martin Hardy
with Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Kelly Macdonald, Naomie Harris, Gillian Anderson, Stephen Fry, Jeremy Northam, Ian Hart, James Fleet, Kieran O'Brien, Shirley Henderson, Dylan Moran, Greg Wise, David Walliams, Mark Williams, Keeley Hawes
release UK 20.Jan.06,
US 27.Jan.06
05/UK BBC Films 1h34

Who's the star: Coogan and Brydon

macdonald anderson northam

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A Cock and Bull Story Like Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation, this film takes an askew approach to a novel, in this case Laurence Sterne's 1760 groundbreaker The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Like the book, this is a completely mad film within a film, setting narrative aside for a free-wheeling examination of identity.

Coogan plays himself, an actor starring as both the narrator Tristram and his father Walter. After a day of shooting, his girlfriend (Macdonald) joins him on set with their infant son, waiting patiently while he indulges in his insecurity with his costar (Brydon), flirts with his assistant (Harris), convinces the writer and director (Hart and Northam) to hire Anderson to play a new character (a plan that backfires gloriously), and generally has a crisis of identity before shooting resumes the next morning.

At one point, Coogan describes the book as "a post-modern classic written way before there was any modernism to be post about", and the film runs with this idea, piling flashback upon fantasy upon cutaway to hilariously examine a vain movie star who's trying to put his past (namely the enduring Alan Partridge character) behind him and move on. In taller shoes than anyone else. Every moment contains a joke--dialog, visual gags, riffs on film set life, parodies of both biopics and period movies.

The film within the film is amusingly camp, with some extremely witty moments; while the behind-the-scenes action has a raw, fly-on-the-wall feel to it. The cast has a ball with it all, merrily throwing punch-lines into the mix every few seconds. Coogan impressively and impeccably sends up his own image, Brydon sharply matches him pace for pace, and there are moments of sheer genius from Fry, Anderson and Hart. And pretty much everyone else, for that matter.

In the end it's not terribly easy to sift through the insanity. The point of it all is rather murky, even though the astute insights are fairly consistent. What really matters is that it keeps knowing filmgoers laughing consistently all the way through.

cert 15 themes, language, nudity, sexuality 15.Sep.05
NB. To add a further surreal touch, the distributor arranged our press screening to be held at Framestore CFC, a regular London screening venue, which was used as the set for the screening of the film within the film. It was quite odd to see the place we were actually sitting up there on the screen in front of us. Especially since Coogan was sitting in my seat.

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2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall