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Movie Review

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

MPAA Rating: R for language and sexual content

Reviewed by: Jonathan Wooten

Very Offensive
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1 hr. 34 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
January 27, 2006 (wide)
Copyright, Picturehouse Entertainment
Copyright, Picturehouse Entertainment
Copyright, Picturehouse Entertainment
Copyright, Picturehouse Entertainment
Copyright, Picturehouse Entertainment
Copyright, Picturehouse Entertainment
Copyright, Picturehouse Entertainment
Copyright, Picturehouse Entertainment
Copyright, Picturehouse Entertainment
Relevant Issues
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Featuring: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Kelly Macdonald, Jeremy Northam, James Fleet, Ian Hart, Shirley Henderson, Stephen Fry, Gillian Anderson, Kieran O’Brien
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Producer: Marcel Zyskind
Distributor: Picturehouse Entertainment

“He’s About To Play The Role Of His Life.”

Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “Flipping back and forth between the 18th Century and the hapless efforts of the 21st Century filmakers, “A Cock and Bull Story” is the making of a movie adapted from the notoriously unfilmable English literature masterpiece, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Sahndy, Gentlemen, written by Laurence Sterne. The story begins with Tristram Shandy (Steve Coogan) narrating his life story as he sees it. Crammed with literary jokes and dark humor, Shandy’s warped childhood tales are constantly interrupted by his family and household, inadvertently revealing far more about himself than any conventional autobiography.

At the dramatic moment of Tristram’s birth, the 1st Assistant Director calls cut, marking the end of a filming day on the set of Tristram Shandy. We then see Steve Coogan, the other actors and crew through the course of a chaotic evening on set. Steve Coogan’s wife arrives with their six month old baby, a journalist is chasing him about a scandalous story, his agent has arrived with a load of Hollywood scripts and the film financiers are threatening to pull the plug. A clever, post-modern take on the construction of a film, from an intricate hilariously complex autobiographical novel.”

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This is a hard movie to describe. I picture the filmmakers initially pitching the unique concept to studio heads: “‘8½’ meets ‘Waiting for Guffman’” must not have been an easy sell. This is a film within a film. Steve Coogan plays the title role as well as himself in this mockumentary of a crew attempting to make a film based on an unfilmable novel. The blurring of the lines between reality and fiction makes the story a little hard to follow at first (awkward jumps in continuity don’t help either). But that is forgivable because first and foremost this is a comedy, and a sharp one at that.

It quickly becomes obvious that the period drama they are making is a low budget disaster. While viewing footage of an unimpressive battle scene, Coogan mocks the general (Rob Brydon), “he’s leading tens of men.” These two are great sparring partners and most likely improvised often. Anything is fair game for laughs whether it’s Brydon’s receding hairline or Coogan’s past movie bombs. Even their acclaimed collaboration “24 Hour Party People” is not spared.

The funniest moments involve poking fun at the ego of actors and the absurdity of Hollywood in general. In one scene Coogan groans as his agent continues to send him ridiculous scripts, “this one is from HBO, it’s about an amnesiac that falls in love with his daughter.”

For the same reasons why “This is Spinal Tap” is a staple on musician’s tour busses “A Cock and Bull Story” is destined to be loved by those in the film industry. It’s likely though that the in-jokes and dry British humor will not register with all audiences. It will probably end up being one of those movies where half the audience goes home scratching their heads and wondering what all the fuss was about.

Spiritual Content: Minimal to non-existent. Coogan’s struggles with infidelity and fatherhood are briefly touched upon. After an indiscretion with his assistant, he does in the end decide to return to his girlfriend, the mother of his child. The movie’s R-rating and title should give a clue that it will contain some possible objectionable content. Most notable is a scene where a window crushes young Tristram while he is relieving himself. In addition to very brief nudity, there is also a fair amount of profanity and bawdy humor.

Violence: Minor / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

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