The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy,
an 18th Century English novel primarily about all of the humanity
that can be found among the chaos and tangle of life. The entire
novel takes place before Tristram is a man. The movie Tristram
Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is primarily about the humanity
found among the chaos and tangle of making a movie. The entire
story takes place before the film version of the novel is complete.
That's probably for the best, since people think the original
story would make a terrible movie.
sort of cute, right? The kind of cute that'd be awful in the hands
of the kind of moviemakers that jack off to thoughts of postmodern
fanciness. That's what I was afraid I'd get. Instead, holy shit,
what a fucking terrific movie. It's clever and sly and funny as
shit without ever getting wrapped up in itself or patting itself
on the back. Instead, it's a shambly, rambling picture that is
as close to unself-conscious as something this sharp can be. Let's
say that on the scale of self-aware cuteness this is a hell of
a lot closer to a bum sleeping in a shopping cart than to a Belle
and Sebastian record. Fuck twee.
Shandy is what I think they call a meta-movie, I think. I'm
not sure because I don't know exactly what a meta-movie is, but
then neither do the fucknits at the Landmark Esquire when they
use it. So, at least I'm not alone. Still, it sounds like the
right description for a movie that nails the theme of its source
material without telling its story. It's a pretty damn neat trick,
Coogan plays Steve Coogan, a vain, self-important actor playing
the vain, self-important Walter Shandy and his son Tristram in
the novel's film adaptation. He hasn't read the book, exactly,
but that doesn't stop him from acting all actorly and pompous
about it, borrowing the suggestions of others to claim as his
own. His own ignorance results in him giving away the largest
part of the movie to his rival and co-star, Rob Bryden. Which
really annoys him, because he's obsessed with being the star.
His shoes must be adjusted so that he can tower over Bryden, claiming
it is important for the character but not himself. He avoids his
girlfriend and new son and the responsibility they have brought
into his life, is hung upside down in an enormous, lifelike womb,
and gets a piping hot chestnut shoved down his pants.
isn't as pompous. Like the character of Uncle Toby he's been hired
to play, he's a somewhat dim actor--and vain in a more likable
way--who plays the somewhat dim character of Toby Shandy. Unlike
Toby, he has not had his nuts blown off in a battle, and he doesn't
spend his waking hours recreating that moment in miniature in
his yard. But like Toby, he doesn't have a good grasp on the opposite
sex. He admits to having posters of Gillian Anderson on his wall,
and swears to drool over her after she agrees to join the movie.
movie within the movie is a low-budget mess that is being written
as it goes, with tacky battle scenes and the weirdo choice of
having an adult Tristram narrate his story when he didn't live
past eight. The production is hampered by a war historian who
demands accuracy. It'd be like letting a fanboy oversee your every
decision in adapting a comic book. The movie is also limited by
its budget and financiers, who are happy to have more stars and
want an ending. The theme is that Wanter Shandy is transformed
into a decent person by the birth of his child, and the movie
is about how Coogan is transformed into a decent person by his
own choice to grow up while making the movie within the movie.
Tristam Shandy suffers from not having much plot, that's
also part of its purpose. It's meant to show how beauty and enlightenment
can bloom from a mess, like roses out of a cow turd. Trying to
film the novel is a mess. The production is disorganized. But
that's the point; life is shitty and messy and confused and out
of your control, and it's still pretty damn great. That's a message
I remind myself of many Sunday mornings when I wake up in a neighbor's
bushes with my skull feeling like it's full of mercury and there's
throw up in my shirt pocket. But, I'm still alive, the Tavern
sells bloody mary's dirt cheap, and they open in 15 minutes.
Coogan that Coogan plays is an unlikable ass, but when he holds
his son and changes a diaper, he becomes sympathetic. That scene
follows shortly after he tries to convince the movie-in-the-movie's
director to let Walter Shandy hold infant Tristram, in order to
make his on-screen character sympathetic. Bryden's obsession with
Anderson is mirrrored by his on-screen relationship with her as
the Widow Wardman, where he's as uneasy and sweaty as a gay sixth-grader
during the couples skate. The movie-within-the-movie also features
a literal interpretation of a baby being brought kicking and screaming
into the world, when Dr. Slop breaks baby Tristram's nose while
extracting him from the womb with forceps.
Shandy a nifty trick, and I don't mean that like a magic trick,
because those are rarely nifty and usually done by creepy guys
who spent their childhoods around pedophiles in magic shops. No,
I mean, it's a movie that does so many things that could be too
fucking cute, but does them all well. And it's funny as shit along
the way. Four Fingers.
Want to tell Filthy Something?