Steve Coogan works triple time playing himself the actor, the character of Tristram Shandy and Tristram’s father, Walter Shandy. Coogan’s understated comedic personality shines through in all three characters. He is completely egotistic and consumed with being the center of attention.
Coogan’s bumbling co-star, Rob Brydon (as himself and Uncle Toby), is constantly annoying Coogan and inadvertently stealing the spotlight with his own great comic presence. Brydon does an excellent job playing a foolish yet extremely loveable Brit with good fortune.
While everything is going wrong for Coogan, it always seems to work out for Brydon. The characters making the film are a motley crew of movie-obsessed production assistants, temperamental actors and anxious investors.
Director Michael Winterbottom eloquently captures the chaos and uncertainty of making a film, including running out of money and last-minute wardrobe catastrophes. Winterbottom opens the movie with Coogan addressing the viewers by speaking directly into the camera. Throughout the film, Winterbottom has Coogan stop to address the viewers to explain certain situations or characters. The film is completely non-linear and jumps back and forth in the life of Tristram Shandy, which is reminiscent of how people actually look back on their own lives.
The settings are quite basic, sticking mainly to either the film set or the hotel where the cast and crew are staying. The quick and slightly unsteady motions of the camera give the viewer the feeling that they are there with all the characters as a silent witness to the mayhem.
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is full of laughs, courtesy of the film’s quirky characters and the unusual situations in which they unwittingly find themselves. This post-modernistic approach to moviemaking results in a highly entertaining flick, its eye directed at a sophisticated audience. In the end, the filmmakers of Tristram Shandy accomplish the impossible; making a great movie out of an unfilmable novel.