Monday, February 20, 2006

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

Gentle satires like Day for Night, 8½, Stardust Memories, and now Tristram Shandy are made by people who love movies for people who love movies. They take us behind the scenes of the making of a fictional film or a filmmaker’s life not to uncover any scandals but to poke affectionate fun at the needy but loveable people without whom we’d never have movies.

British comedic actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon bite into their multiple roles in Tristram Shandy with relish. They two play rival – and equally narcissist – costars in the movie within this movie, which is an attempt to film the 18th-century novel of the title. The other actors are fun to watch, too, especially the always compelling Naomie Harris, who play a production assistant, and Gillian Anderson as a Hollywood star who flies in at the last moment for a small role that gets bigger as soon as she commits to it.

Director Michael Winterbottom made this film about the impossibility of making the movie you meant to make as a tribute to the spirit of the book, whose narrator keeps trying to tell his life story but getting sidetracked, ultimately getting only as far as his birth. But you don’t have to have read the novel to enjoy the film – in fact, one of the movie’s running jokes is that none of the people making the movie has bothered to read the book first. To enjoy this funny valentine to those wacky folks whose biz is show, all you need to do is relax and go with the flow.