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Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

Year: 2006
Production Co: Newmarket
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Writer: Frank Cotrell Boyce
Cast: Steve Coogan Rob Brydon, Naomie Harris, Kelly MacDonald, Gillian Anderson, Dylan Moran, Jeremy Northam
There's a slight desperation in some of Winterbottom's work - particularly in his comedy - that he wants everyone to consider him 'post-modern'. He even manages to work the phrase into his scripts more than once.

But slight hoity-toitiness is forgivable because his comedies - including Tristram Shandy - are very, very funny.

What better way to film the book long considered unfilmable (The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Esq.) than to make a movie about how unfilmable it is? Winterbottom weaves at least three narrative streams together to make his point; there's the movie itself, there's the sardonic narrative of the film by star Steve Coogan as it's filmed (both playing and parodying himself), and there's the story of the crew and production of what will undoubtedly be a huge failure.

Winterbottom has a flair for the ridiculous - just watch the man in the womb sequence - and Coogan complements it beautifully, a bundle of measured sarcasm and insecurity, especially in his rivalry with co-star Brydon. There are several scenes (gloriously ad-libbed) of Coogan trying to outdo Brydon, including arguments about who has the most authentic teeth and changes to the costuming to go along with fragile egos.

Drawing back to watch the film, then the film within the film, then the film within the film within the film, unpeels layers where a new story is going on at every stage, all of them brilliantly written and executed. You could hardly imagine a better adaptation of the novel that can never work on screen.

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