A Cock and Bull Story [2005]

6/10 | 11.Jul.12
A Cock and Bull Story

DIRECTOR: Michael Winterbottom  | WRITER: Frank Cottrell Boyce  |  CAST: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Keeley Hawes, Shirley Henderson, Stephen Fry, Gillian Anderson  |  UK

I wish I liked A Cock and Bull Story, a mockumentary on the making of a movie version of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, more than I did. I resisted seeing the movie when it was originally released because I feared it would be smirky and filled with improvisatory “real life” comedy bits, with insider joke piled on insider joke. Well, it is that, but when A Cock and Bull Story is funny it is very, very, very funny. Gillian Anderson parodying herself as the actress “Gillian Anderson” is hilarious. Rob Brydon’s confession that he draws acting inspiration from Roger Moore, Al Pacino, and Barbra Streisand — a little bit of Hello, Dolly! here, a little Yentl there — was uproariously funny. The military historian who proclaims that the movie Cold Mountain — which Steve Coogan had just opined was great except for the fact that Nicole Kidman was too old for her part — was complete “shite” because the costumes were historically inaccurate (they were off by a couple of decades) was hilarious. And despite all odds Michael Winterbottom and his cast do capture something of the feel of the novel, if only intermittently.

But at 90 minutes and rushing from one bit to the next, one scene to the next, the movie feels rushed. That is something you never feel on reading the novel; quite the opposite, in fact. And true to the mockumentary genre, A Cock and Bull Story‘s material can only be stretched so far before it becomes tiresomely self-referential. Still, the few sequences from Tristram Shandy that are actually shot for the movie within the movie were amazingly close to how I’d pictured them on reading the novel — that is exactly how I’d pictured Toby’s model of the Siege of Namur — but none closer than young Tristram’s accidentental circumcision while pissing out a window. The film-geek insider jokes, the ones I got anyway, were quite funny (much of the score is lifted from 8 1/2, a production assistant earnestly talks about Bresson and Fassbinder to anyone who’ll listen and even those who won’t, and so on). As a whole, though, I think the movie is only pretty good. Something to make note of to watch if it’s on or to set your DVR for, but it just doesn’t add up to much more than that.

Except when it does.

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