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This week:
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

Filthy says:
"This is pretty damn good stuff."

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is 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.

Sounds 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.

Tristram 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, really.

Steve 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.

Bryden 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.

The 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.

While 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.

The 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.

Tristram 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.


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Peter Sobczynski of efilmcritic

Ulrtaviolet is "a visual feast from start to finish

Filthy's Reading
Raymond Chandler - Collected Stories

Listening to
The Pixies - Death to the Pixies


The Bicycle Thief