A Movie Review
Just the other day I emerged from a darkened movie theater with my best friend Bobby, merrily walking along with that fresh, reality-distorted euphoria only a truly inpsiring film can induce. I breezily turned to Bobby to scan his face. "That was the one of the dullest movies I've ever seen. I've been wanting to walk out for over an hour," he said.
Coogan wonders if he is leading man material with a giant fake nose, Brydon fancies his yellow British teeth.
I had been looking forward to "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story" for nearly a month, but in that moment I felt like a complete jackass. I look to Bobby for the gospel truth, and if he is telling me a film is dull, well maybe that makes me dull too?
Upon further reflection, I think I've been able to conclude that a) I am not a jackass for liking this movie, and b)Bobby did have a point.
The film is an adaptation of a novel in the same vein as, well, "Adaptation" (the cerebral Kaufman masterpiece starring Nicolas Cage). It takes the 18th c novel by Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, and successfully translates it into a film manifestation with the same self-indulgent, incomprehensible narrative that made the book so uniquely timeless. In the same way that the narrator of the "biographic" novel, Tristram, leads his readers away from his own life story with arbitrary revelations and digressions, the filmmakers of said adaptation have cleverly mimicked this idiosyncratic tendency. The result is a film within a film not dissimilar to Sterne's novel within a novel: with me so far?
In the words of Steve Coogan, the actor who stars as Tristram Shandy and as a satirical exaggeration of himself--the actor Steve Coogan: "Tristram Shandy was postmodern before there was any modern to be post about."
It was hard for me to critically analyze this film based on its own merits, due to my own infatuation with Steve Coogan, the actor best known for his role as Alan Partidge in "I Am Alan Partridge" and "Knowing Me, Knowing You". He is master of that trendy new form of humor I like to think of as anti-humor. Anti-humor pioneers include Ricky Gervais and Larry David, as well as the US TV show, "Arrested Development". Anti-humorists are not the typical comedians, no, their mission is to make the audience feel awkward as they recklessly put themselves in awkward situations that mirror real life.
But it seems I was not the only one infatuated with Coogan, as director Michael Winterbottom took what could have been a brilliant Kaufman-esque piece and turned it into a bona fide loveletter to the actor. Anyone who has seen "24 Hour Party People" can attest. In "24 Hour", Winterbottom took a pitifully bland script and solely relied on Coogan's supreme wit to dig it out of the muck. That time it failed. This time, with the help of the endearing egomaniac of a co-star Rob Brydon, the film was nearly carried, but not quite. "A Cock and Bull Story" is quite like the unfortunate progression of a carnival ride after too much funnel cake: fast-paced and exciting at first, then dizzying, then nauseating.
Masha Gessen is the author of *The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia*, which will be published in October. In the July issue of Har...
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