|Title:||Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story|
|Genre:||Movie About Movies|
|10.25.05||Paramount||This Screening is part of event: Austin Film Festival 2005|
Down to the Paramount again to catch Michael Winterbottom's latest, I sat watching people come in at the last second (there's a regular crew of them that are prone to this; I'm recognizing faces at this point) and realized that I wasn't sure what this movie was about or if it'll be any good at all. Each summary I had read of this sounded like descriptions of completely different movies; the only hope I held onto was that Winterbottom, who's consistently impressed me in the past, would take me somewhere I'd like to go.
Tristram Shandy is a movie based on the classic book The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne. The Quixotian deluge of tangents, digressions, and absurdist comedy is said to be unfilmable (as the film addresses). There are so many stories in its 720 pages that one could make virtually any genre of film from it, simultaneously remaining true and hacking to pieces the original material. So how does Winterbottom handle it? He takes a wonderfully meta approach, stepping in and out of the story at whim and letting the cast play versions of themselves as well as period characters, somehow managing to keep the whole thing from deliriously falling apart. This film feels like what Soderbergh's Full Frontal attempted to be. The films strength comes not only from the insanity and comedy of seeing behind the scenes of a film production but also in thematic ties between Steve Coogan as Shandy and Steve Coogan as himself.
Each description I've read of this film is true and also completely different from every other. The film succeeds in bringing the novel's sense of pattern through the chaos translated to that of the film adaptation process itself (presumably. Not like I've read it or anything). As we watch this glorious mess splay out in every which way as the narrative literally stops and falls into the bottomless pit of documentary, observing the production undergo budgetary troubles, rewrites, media attention, etc., we begin to see similarities between the story they're trying to tell and the story we are being shown. Coogan argues that if only Walter Shandy could be seen holding his baby, all of his unsympathetic traits would be forgiven by the audience. Meanwhile, playing a caricaturized insecure actor protrayal of himself, Coogan constantly undermines his co-workers, flirts outside of his relationship with Kelly MacDonald, and drinks like a fish. yet, when we see him change his baby's diaper in a moment of quiet solitude, all is forgiven.
The film remains coherent through all of this and ultimately returns to Shandy's world for a very fitting ending. Describing itself as a story about a cock and a bull, Tristram Shandy is really a masterfully told story and well worth seeing for any that have the opportunity.