A Cock and Bull Story (15)

Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, Laurence Sterne (original novel)
On general release from 20th January 2006

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Okay folks, pay attention because this is going to get complicated. A Cock and Bull Story is a film about the pretend making of a pretend film based on Laurence Sterne’s eighteenth century tale The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. A Cock and Bull Story was written and directed by the team behind 24 Hour Party People - which starred Steve Coogan in the role of Tony Wilson, the man who set-up Factory Records and discovered bands such as Joy Division and Happy Mondays. In that film, the real Tony Wilson played a studio director. A Cock and Bull Story also stars Coogan, and also has a cameo from Wilson. Confused? It’s just ‘postmodernism’, and Tristram Shandy was apparently “a postmodern novel before modernism had even been invented”. Which means it’s a bit weird and full of itself basically. It’s still pretty good though.

So Coogan plays Tristram Shandy - a man about whom we discover little because this film is as sprawling as the “essentially unfilmable” novel. He also portrays Steve Coogan - a rude, vain and sex addicted man who feels that life - and the lead role in his own film - is slipping away. His main rival is Rob Brydon (ably conjured-up by Rob Brydon) who’s a whole lot more easygoing but is still very worried by his receding hairline and ‘not-white’ teeth. Around their bickering and mutual jealousy spins a massive company which includes just about every comedy actor known to mankind (David Walliams, Stephen Fry and Dylan Moran being the most famous), plus others not previously known for their comedy acting (Gillian Anderson, Shirley Henderson and Naomie Harris).

With a lineup as talented as this, A Cock and Bull Story couldn’t really help but be a winner. Every performer gives their all, and the result is a sometimes hilarious brush with the film industry and the cult of celebrity. My main sticking point - as with all postmodern stuff - is that there is no life and no opinions behind all the complicated cleverness. But even this was foreseen by Boyce and Winterbottom. There’s one scene when someone asks if its justifiable to spend a year making a film that has no point other than being funny. “Well, maybe if it’s genuinely funny”, replies Coogan. That’s alright then.

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