Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story opened on the coasts in January. Much has already been written about this film-about-a-film-based-on-a-novel-about-writing-a-novel.
The movie is fun to watch and fun to think about, even if it’s a self-indulgent piece of filmic comedy. Steve Coogan, who pulled off something similar in 24-Hour Party People, which was also directed by Michael Winterbottom, plays the title character’s father, and an actor named Steve Coogan, and over the credits, the actor who played the actor named Steve Coogan. He was slated to play Tristram Shandy as well, but the movie ends before that person can even be born, so that’s one less role for him.
As far as I can tell, there’s not very much substance underneath the layers upon layers. There is a competition between the bitter Coogan and his good-natured co-star Rob Brydon. There is a love story, of sorts, between Coogan and one of the film’s production assistants. It’s hampered by the fact that Coogan is married and has a son. There is almost a theme touching on family and parental responsibility but I hesitate to say that there’s anything as deep as a “theme” in this movie.
In the end, two components sum up the movie best: the on-camera scholar (Stephen Fry) explaining that the point of the novel is that life is just too complex to fit in a novel; and the sweet Nino Rota music that Federico Fellini used in his playful, self-referential masterpiece 8 1/2.