“Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story”: Film review

As Steve Coogan puts it at one point in this jumpy jolty film – Laurence Sterne’s “Tristram Shandy” was a post-modern masterpiece before there was any modern to be post.
I have not read “Tristram Shandy” though it’s been on my list for a very long time – ever since it came up on the college curriculum and I marveled at its disregard for conventional rules of narrative and the novel: I recall one page being entirely blacked out, and other pages featuring scribbles and lines, and acres of digression and odd insertions of irrelevant side text. The critics are probably right to say this book is unfilmable, and this is presumably why the director, cast and crew struggle so much to make sense of their own script drafts and ideas, stumbling back and forth through rewrites and complete changes of direction, the fourth wall practically non-existent as you jump from the 18th century action to late night script rewrite sessions. An entire battle scene is re-shot and then none of the footage used because “it wasn’t funny.” At one point Gillian Anderson is cast at the last minute to flesh out the story, and despite two weeks of filming, none of her scenes are used.
All the while, Coogan struggles to get away from the cast, crew, the press, hangers-on, to get a quiet moment with his girlfriend and his newborn child.
In the end, the film ends without having really begun, leaving the on-screen audience somewhat as non-plussed as the viewer.
Still worth watching, though. And I’ll have to read the book.
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