A delirious orgy of self-reflexive ridiculousness, Michael Winterbottom’s Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story makes up for its thematic thinness with boisterous, buffoonish extravagance. Constructed as a film-within-a-film-within-a-film (or something like that), Winterbottom’s rollicking exercise in mirthful meta mayhem charts the making of a movie about the making of a cinematic adaptation of Laurence Sterne’s “unfilmable” 18th-century novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, an overstuffed and self-conscious tome that – through its profusion of characters, narrative tangents, and general tomfoolery – conveys the unruly enormity of life. Similarly self-aware and bursting at the seams, Winterbottom’s latest strives to mirror the underlying ideas espoused by Sterne’s book without (save for one hilariously expository instance) ever overtly addressing them, offering up a cornucopia of actors who address the camera, play multiple characters as well as slightly altered versions of their real-world selves, and regularly critique the entire enterprise (complete with repeated satirical jabs at the moviemaking process). Structural cleverness aside, however, Tristram largely rides high thanks to its superlative British cast headlined by bickering co-leads Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, a dynamic duo whose jealous, nasty, sarcastic and silly rapport turns Winterbottom’s freewheeling (if occasionally too frivolous) film into a showcase for exemplary comedic drollery.
(2005 New York Film Festival)