Movie Reviews
12:35 pm
Thu March 23, 2006

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

A delightful romp through filmmaking


"People sometimes say that the way things happen in the movies is unreal, but actually it's the way things happen to you in life that's unreal." Andy Warhol

As much as I write about the appreciation of movies, have a screenwriter daughter and talent agent son, the actual making of a movie remains a mystery except through such famous insider films as Day for Night and the recent Adaptation and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Michael Winterbottom's Tristram Shandy, a film about the making of a film about an unfilmable 17th century novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Stern, brings a levity to the genre, a sense that filming is an imperfect science replete with last minute accommodations, intrigues, distress, and mirth--a world unto its own for the time it takes to wrap it up and put it in the can, or computer, as it might be today.

Steve Coogan as Shandy and his father is perfect for the role, a comedian just low key enough to spring ironies and sarcasm gently on us voyeurs and delicate enough to make us applaud his character named Steve Coogan remaining faithful to his wife while beset by his own wandering eye and a most attractive p.a. Like the novel itself, these intrigues come to nothing because Winterbottom keeps us all grooving through a sumptuous old Brit estate as if hounded by the inevitably hungry creditors.

Central to the enjoyment of the chaos is the friendly rivalry between lead Coogan and his "co-lead" Rob Brydon, a real life comedian. Rob is well aware of his second banana status and open with Coogan about his insecurities, who good-naturedly indulges Rob's prattling about his adulation of Pacino and Streisand and his downright fear of playing opposite Gillian Anderson, who joins the enterprise only to be shocked to see how little of her survives the editing. She is responsible for leading him into the funniest line of the film when she asks Rob's character where he was wounded in the battle scene eventually cut: "Just beyond the asparagus," he responds pointing to the spot on the model.

After reminding Coogan that he, Rob, is a "featured co-lead," Coogan dryly responds, "Well, we'll see after the edit." The banter between Coogan and Brydon continues even during the credits as Brydon frets about his bald spot and the excellence of his movie star imitations.

It's as delightful a romp through filmmaking as you could hope for given the ungainly glamour of the process, the uncertainty of the outcome, and the surfeit of talent so necessary for its success or failure.