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A Cock and Bull Story 2005
Description: Steve Coogan, an arrogant actor with weak self-esteem and a complicated love life, is testing the eponymous role in an adaptation of "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman" being filmed at a stately home. He constantly spars with actor Rob Brydon, who is testing Uncle Toby and believes his role to be of equal importance to Coogan's.
Released: 20 Jan 2006 Director: Michael Winterbottom Writers: Laurence Sterne (novel), Frank Cottrell Boyce (screenplay) Actors: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Keeley Hawes, Shirley Henderson Genres: Comedy
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A Cock and Bull Story Reviews:

How do you movie an unfilmable book? Well, you can either create it up as you go along, as David Cronenberg did with Naked Lunch, or you take this approach and create a movie about a movie team making a movie of an unfilmable book. The tricky tome in question here is The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen - a bawdy work of wit and wonderment penned in 1760 by clergyman Laurence Sterne.Steve Coogan plays Tristram - even though he's not born by the end of the ebook - as well as Tristram's father Walter... and himself. Or rather, a semi-fictional ver of himself. Rob Brydon also stars as himself and Walter's brother - Tristram's Uncle Toby. There are lots of another familiar British TV actors either testing themselves testing another characters or simply testing characters who interact with the stars of the film-within-the-film (for example, Ian Hart plays the screenwriter but doesn't enjoy Ian Hart). And Gillian Anderson makes an appearance. Confused? Don't worry, you won't be.As the writer and director strive to retain the spirit of Shandy compromises have to be made to let for star egos, historical precision (Mark Williams is perfect as a pain-in-the-arse military consultant), and a miniscule budget. In one cracking scene, the team watch the 'rushes' of the underwhelming war stage ("Look at that! There are, literally, tens of people..."), leaving the director in despair and the costume designer in tears.The seemingly complicated set-up now makes a lot of sense, with Coogan sending up the naughty-boy persona created for him by the British press and Brydon sending up Coogan, while the movie itself sends up the movie-making process. Viewers will be frequently amused but never bewildered as Michael Winterbottom pulls it all together with panache.Anyone unfamiliar with the novel won't learn much, but it matters not. Bawdy and barmy, A Cock And Bull Storyline embodies Sterne's work perfectly. Coogan gamely shows his vulnerable side (or maybe that's just nice acting?) and shows terrific rapport with Brydon, who steals the present with marvellously mundane banter and spot-on impersonations of Coogan-as-Alan Partridge and Roger Moore. Give that boy his own movie.


A movie so post-post-postmodern that Steve Coogan steps out of the screen and hits on your girlfriend in the theater lobby -- I won't tell if this is real or not -- Tristram Shandy is a meticulously controlled work that, despite the film-within-a-film conceit, is very faithful to its impenetrable source. Just like Sterne's book, the engine of Winterbottom's movie is bittersweet melancholy, but the engine noise, drowning out what some might consider to be a nihilistic message, is bawdy, music-hall, veddy veddy English humor.For Americans to receive anything out of this movie, you will need to understand a bit about both Tristram Shandy -- at least enough to know that Coogan is testing Shandy's FATHER and that Shandy himself is only the narrator -- and about Steve Coogan's mythology. For those who are too lazy, all you need to know is that Coogan doesn't have a reputation for being led around by his brain. I have briefly met him in person and found the experience uncanny. He is so totally what he is that he seems to have a force-field around him that separates him from the more amorphous mass of humanity. In the future, when you tell the word "Coogan," it will immediately paint a picture of a certain kind of male. A kind that girls are drawn to irresistibly, because he is both a kid in need of mothering, a grown Linus Van Pelt perpetually clutching a safety blanket, and aggressively sexual and dirty. He's the terrible man and the baby all rolled into one. And yet, far from being a jerk or a cad, he is intensely likable.All of which goes to present that rarely has any actor been more excellent for a role than Coogan is here. Posing this hapless man-child next to a bull with a large bazoing cute much tells it all. You see, Sterne is not a fanatic of the procreative arts ( and judging by his last several movies, neither is Winterbottom; "Everyone's child is so special," tells Samantha Morton in Code 46, "Makes you wonder where all the ordinary adults come from." ) The game hero of Tristram Shandy remains famously unborn, and the only characters that Sterne truly loves, and who truly love every other, are a eunuch and a widow, all of which goes to present that Sterne considers death to be a blessing and human existence to be largely unnecessary, nothing but the byproduct of mindless sexual flare-ups that would be quickly forgotten except for the babies they produce, who in turn have more sexual flare-ups, and so on. In the movie these flare-ups come courtesy of Steve Coogan, testing both himself as a father -- and constantly attempting to hack on his wife, as he is popular for doing in true life; you may even recall the false alarm that he'd knocked up Courtney Love! -- and also the reluctant Shandy's paterfamilias. Between these two Johnny Appleseeds, both of whom look like Steve Coogan, whole planetary systems should be populated and repopulated.The movie is short, but dense -- each stage has so many dimensions that the end effect fanatics out like a peacock's tail. There are unlimited features to sift through in its 90 minute running time, and there is a very beautifully done telescoping of time periods to match Tristram Shandy's 18th-century milieu with that of Steve Coogan's and our own modern day. When Coogan haggles over a script in the lobby of a trendily underlit London hotel, you feel somehow transported back to Shandy's father's palatial home and its elegant candlelight. The central stage of the movie comes when Coogan, escaping from a costume party where the 21st century briefly crashes into the 18th, says his wife: "I just had a nightmare." That nightmare is named our world, reality, human as opposed to divine love, the globe controlled by time yet where nothing really changes except the clothes and the hairstyles, and that, despite its obvious wretchedness and pain, folks are too scared to give up; yes, the very same "cock and bull story" of the title. It is not each comedian who has something to tell about the human comedy. But Coogan certainly does, under Michael Winterbottom's expert and disillusioned hand.


Has anyone ever truly read The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman? Does anyone know what the hell it's supposed to be about? For that matter, does this review have a spoiler? Does it create sense that a stage depicting realism, for that matter, involve a boy lodged upside-down in a makeshift womb? I don't know. I've tried to receive past the first page of the ebook but I search that I go into brain-freeze, my thumb seeks solace in my mouth, and I scrunch into a fetal position not unlike Steve Coogan in the movie. I've come to the conclusion that when a work is so far ahead in the future to be rendered the apex of post-modernism, it's probably greatest to allow it alone and have folks think you're an intellectual because there it stands in plain view, a ebook with a handsome cover, in your bookshelf.An unfilmable novel. Hell, an unreadable at that! But here it is, the first critical success of 2006: A COCK AND BULL STORY is the movie to crack the shell and launch the merry chaos that is Lawrence Sterne's crazy universe. Knowing that this novel is no walk in the park for anyone, Michael Winterbottom comes up with a mockumentary that features the creation of the film we're watching which itself is about the adaptation of the book. This loop sets the scene for a flurry of happenings which transpire at a crazy pace parallel to the "events" of the book. Star and co-star clash on who's the bigger star, Tristram's own birth needs more and more takes, and then there's the "minor" trouble that Widow Wadman, a major user of the novel, is nowhere to be seen in the screenplay and in walks Gillian Anderson who is cast as the Widow, who's scenes wind up in the cutting-room floor anyway.Parallel to these happenings are others that mirror the ones in Federico Fellini's 8 1/2. Steve Coogan the actor in the film is married to wife Jenny who has arrived to be with him during this filming with her infant son (who will enjoy a part in the movie). Their relationship is not as strained as Guido and Luisa Anselmi but they are seen as on the cusp of being estranged. Carla's equivalent is her polar opposite, a movie buff who's also part of the production crew, also called Jennie, who like Carla talks on and on about intricate, almost elaborate subtext of symbolisms that Steve succumbs to in one flirtatious stage when she comes on to him. He, like Guido, returns to his wife though, and despite the odds the film becomes reality -- a very skewered one at greatest and one that leaves the audience saying, "Huh?" That is the main irony and in borrowing the original melody score composed by Nino Rota it grounds A COCK AND BULL STORY in 8 1/2's sense of the absurd that continue even after the credits roll.



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