Reviews

A Cock And Bull Story

4

According to Steve Coogan, Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy was "a post-modern classic written before there was any modern to be post about." Wrap your brain around that and you'll be prepared for Michael Winterbottom's deliriously entertaining film-within-a-film, which reflects the novel's playful, self-referential structure by twinning dramatised episodes from the book with the trials and tribulations of a cash-strapped crew trying to make sense of it.

Confused? You needn't be. Indeed, once you get the hang of Martin Hardy's clever script, the constant flip-flops between 'fact' and 'fiction' become utterly exhilarating. One moment Coogan is playing Tristram's father beneath a latex nose and powdered wig, the next he's in the make-up chair, bantering with presumptive co-star Rob Brydon. A conference call with Gillian Anderson segues effortlessly into an interlude from the novel, subsequently revealed to be Coogan's paranoid nightmare. And a discussion of Sterne's famous use of a black page to accompany the demise of a leading character is accompanied by - what else? - a momentary blackout.

Though close in style to Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People, Cock And Bull is a quantum leap up from that 2002 effort. In fact, there are times when it approaches the level of the sublime - Coogan putting a hot chestnut down his trousers, for example, or being lowered into a giant womb for Tristram's 'birth' (trust us, you really have to be there...). Tour de force doesn't really cover it - although after Coogan's recent Hollywood adventures, the sex scandal which threatens to disrupt both the shoot and his marriage seems uncomfortably apposite.

Yes, the ending's a little on the abrupt side, while some actors inevitably get a rawer deal than others. But you'd have to go back to 1973's Day For Night - or maybe Extras - to see the movie-making process so wonderfully skewered. Who knew Eng Lit could be such fun?

Verdict:

Ingenious, hilarious and often intellectually rigorous, this spirited and anarchic comedy is a welcome return to form for Winterbottom.

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