The Electric Commentary

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, is an 18th century novel by Laurence Sterne, about a man attempting, but failing, to write his autobiography. Or so I'm told. I've never actually read it. Admitting this fact puts me one step ahead of the cast and characters, of Tristram Shandy, A Cock and Bull Story, a movie about an attempt at making a movie about a man attempting to write his autobiography, but failing, but failing.

Steve Coogan plays Tristram Shandy, but he also plays Steve Coogan. "Co-lead" Steve Brydon plays Toby Shandy, as well as Steve Brydon. It is clear that, at most, two people on the set actually understand that the story is more about writing and the creative process than it is about any story that may or may not be there. As no one understands this, the poor writer has been forced to do three re-writes to make the story more audience friendly. His most recent version contains a battle scene which clearly isn't that important, but is the cause of much fretting.

The movie is brilliant.

It begins with some semblance of an actual story, focusing on Tristram's birth, but it quickly breaks down into a movie about the politics and egos behind the movie. It could have turned into a pretentious trash heap at this point, but instead it moves along rather seamlessly thanks to inspired dialogue between Coogan and Brydon, as well as great supporting performances from Naomie Harris (Coogan's assistant Jennie, who has actually read the book in question), and Kelly MacDonald (Coogan's girlfriend, also named Jenny, with whom he has a newborn baby).

This movie features a 20 foot replica of a uterus, the same number of forcible castrations as Sin City, and a cameo from Gillian Anderson who plays widow Wadman, an of course, Gillian Anderson, in what can only be described as a Carl Weathers-esque performance (if you are an Arrested Development fan).

It's great fun. If you're lucky enough to have it playing in your city, you should see it.

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