TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY
A HESITANT THUMBS UP FILM REVIEW RATING!
This is a pretty tough review to write, mainly because this film definitely won’t be for the general population. If you like potty humor and in-your-face laughs, avoid this movie. TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY is a thinking man’s comedy, with jokes inside jokes inside jokes.
For those who are unfamiliar with the title (THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF TRISTRAM SHANDY, GENTLEMAN), this is in reference to the 18th century literary paperweight composing nine volumes written by Laurence Sterne (famous author John Updike has been quoted as saying, "It’s the one novel I want to read before I die"). Considered a "comedy ahead of its time," it caught on quickly with London's upper class and became quite a success. But as times changed so did the literary climate, and now the volumes are seen as ...well ...voluminous. Attempting to make a coherent film out of something so incoherently nonlinear certainly would present a challenge, too, so I was quite surprised to see that the books had been translated to the silver screen.
Or so I thought...
The amazing thing about this movie is that it did something completely unexpected: it stayed true to Laurence Sterne’s style (being possibly the first example of "stream of consciousness" writing) but did so by not attempting to tell the story of Tristram Shandy at all. I found this to be one of the funniest aspects of the movie. I could picture the directors and producers in a room talking about the impossibility of turning the books into film and then someone saying, "Hey, why don’t we not even try?" So, in the spirit of its original author, that’s exactly what these film makers did.
The story starts out with a film maker (Steve Coogan, director of the supposed "real" movie who, in reality, is being directed by Michael Winterbottom) trying to tell the story of Tristram Shandy while living a life within the movie itself. Basically, it’s the story of a man trying to make a film about a film within a film. It can seem somewhat confusing as the audience is ripped through scenes, unsure of where and — most importantly — when they are. To try and tell you how the movie flows would be absolutely impossible, because it has no flow ...and yet it does. The laughs are surprising and often hidden, so a watcher might have to view it several times before connecting with all of the gags (the only exception being when Coogan tries to show how funny the film’s going to be by dropping a hot chestnut down a his pants ...seeing that might be worth the price of admission for some).
I was surprisingly riveted to the screen throughout the movie, worried that I might miss something (Is the battle scene over? Will it be in the film they’re trying to make? Will there be a love scene with Gillian Anderson?).
I think this film might get panned by quite a few professional reviewers because it is so different than anything we’re used to as movie-goers. But the high comedy can’t be denied. It’s sheer genius how it all came together (make sure to watch for the running joke on poor British dental hygiene throughout the film, too).