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Monday, July 10, 2006

Tristram Shandy: A cock and bull story



Coming to DVD this week is an inventive, and unusual comedy from director Michael Winterbottom.

Tristram Shandy: A cock and bull story starts off as supposedly a film version of the The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen by Laurence Sterne.

This book however has been notoriously referred to by film-makers and storytellers as being a novel which is unfilmable.... by any conventional standards.

After watching the first 30 minutes the audience realizes why.

The book is obviously a satire of procrastination, as the novel pretends to tell a life story of one Tristram Shandy, but in the storytelling, the events are always interrupted by sub-plots, and irreverent information which constantly distract the audience from what it thinks is the main story.

When actually the sub-plots and irreverent information is the main story of the novel.

Taking a cue from the source material, after 30 minutes into the film, director Michael Winterbottom takes a break from telling the novel's story, and then abruptly shifts the movie's focus into a mockumentary about the star of the movie.....real life actor Steve Coogan, and the behind the scenes "drama" of the cast and crew making the movie...... Tristram Shandy... directed by Michael Winterbottom.

Besides the inventive premise, and unusual storytelling. The movie features funny performances from comedic British Television personality Rob Brydon, and actor Steve Coogan.

They share a delightful, and hilarious chemistry that really carries the film.

The movie itself is witty, often times hilarious, energetic.... and very British.

Which is both a good and bad thing.

It's good in that the humor is very dry and intellectual, but the problem is, because it's sooo dry many audience members might feel that the movie is condescending, and pretentious. Especially if one doesn't have any knowledge of the actual novel.

Which is probably 98% of the audience.

But it's hard not to admire the satire, and wit of the film. Michael Winterbottom really nails the irony, humor and craziness of the film business. While Steve Coogan plays the difficult, and pretentious movie star to perfection. It's a brave performance considering he's playing himself so unflattering and petty. Especially for american audiences who probably aren't as familiar with his work. There's a possibility that a lot of people might actually feel that he's really like this character in the movie.

Which is part of the humor.

The movie is challenging and complex on many levels, yet is not afraid to resort to silly, off the wall hijinks, such as when Steve Coogan....the actor, tries to use sense memory to act out a scene which requires a hot chestnut in his pants, and crotch area. Or when he's forced to hang upside down, and inside a giant womb to replicate the birthing process for Tristram Shandy in the film.

It's a movie of many levels and really interesting considering the seemingly lack of originality in today's films. It's one of the reasons why the film has landed on a lot of critics best films list...So far this year.

I was also impressed by Michael Winterbottom's work.

Looking over his IMDB page I was surprised at how many of his movies I've watched, and what is even more impressive is how different they all are. This movie is light years from his most "Hollywood" movie the Claim or his dark mystery I Want You, not to mention the sexually explicit experimental concert film 9 songs. I'd say if one is looking for something in this movie which resembles his previous work, I'd say that the film shares the same frenetic energy of 24 hour party people.

But the movie is uniquely it's own. I'd say the movie is part Adaptation and what Roger Ebert compares the film to, part This is Spinal Tap.

But I'm not sure it's for everyone.

I think if one is in a stimulating mood, and are looking for something fun, different , and challenging, then this movie is for them.

But if they are looking for an Adam Sandler or Nacho Libre type kind of comedy.....then I'd say this movie is definitely not for them.

Overall, it's a fun and interesting film, and a movie I would heartily recommend, if only for the conversation it would spark immediately after.



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