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3.3 out of 5 stars
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3.3 out of 5 stars
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on 20 August 2007
I suppose it's not an absolute prerequisite to have read Tristram Shandy to enjoy this film, but judging by some of the other reviews, it certainly helps. I'm not sure otherwise how you would appreciate the anarchic structure of the film, or the way it plays with self-referentiality in the manner of Laurence Sterne's original masterpiece.

Tristram Shandy is probably one of the most intelligent, funny and inventive novels in English fiction, and one very close to my heart. So I was apprehensive when I first saw this, although I'd long been a fan of Rob Brydon and his "Marion and Geoff" series. I wasn't disappointed. In fact, I was delighted. The film has brilliantly captured all the vitality and exuberance of the book, following the spirit rather than the letter. As another reviewer so excellently put it, this is a film about making a film in just the same way as Sterne wrote a book about writing a book. It's crammed with wit, in-jokes and excellent cameo performances, and is a far better send-up of the whole business of making movies than the execrable "Adaptation".

Moreover, I am sure that Laurence Sterne, now dead nearly 350 years, would have admired it greatly.
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on 17 July 2006
No plot? The point of the film, and indeed the book, is that plot progression may be useful in telling simple stories but says nothing of the person telling the story. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a comic masterpiece, conveying perfectly the erratic and digressional nature of somebody trying desperately to write an account of all of the events, characters and opinions that have shaped his life thus far, whilst having fun with his audience. The film takes it's name from the final line of the book where the author, Sterne, admits that the whole story is such nonsense because it is meant to be.

I watched this film with trepidation, expecting it to be a hapless attempt at bringing the frivolity and energy of the novel to the less flexible medium of the big screen. Fortunately my fears were unfounded as Michael Winterbottom has created as good and worthy an interpretation as I can imagine it being possible to do. The half ad-libbed conversations between rob brydon and steve coogan are utter brilliance and the revelation that the documentary of the making of the 'film' is itself part of the acted film adds an interesting and relevant extra-layer.

The only reason this film does not get 5 stars is no fault of the film itself but of the restrictions inherent in translating a large novel to film. As a film in its own right, A Cock and Bull Story is funny, entertaining, multi-layered and intelligent but it is best seen as a modern and competent re-telling of a classic story.
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on 19 July 2006
I don't necessarily want to say the reviewers who hate this film are wrong but they didn't seem to understand the concept of this film. It's not supposed to have a plot and the film intelligently plays on the concepts of the book which is about life not actually having a plot.

Also Rob Brydon steals much of this film so I don't think you have to be a Partridge fan at all. Especially as the comedy is so different (and it is funny even if there a very few "jokes", the power struggle between Coogan and Brydon is excellent).

So I'd recommend making up your own mind and keeping an open one before seeing it.
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on 20 August 2007
Michael Winterbottom is no stranger to the whole idea of postmodernism and self referencing. Indeed, one of the things that made his rip roaring 24hour party people so enjoyable was its constant ability to reference itself as well as a number of well placed post modern jokes (the one in which Tony Wilson japes that a scene was cut from the film but will probably be on the deleted scenes on the DVD springs instantly to mind). Unfortunately, when self reference turns into self reverence, then we have a problem, and this is exactly what happens to this film.
A film within a film, it deals with the attempt to bring the "unfilmable" 18th century novel "The Life and Adventures of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman" by Laurence Sterne to the screen, and all the problems, insecurities and arguments that this entails. Playing with our preconceptions to a certain degree, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play...well essentially themselves, or rather caricatures of themselves as the take on the roles of characters in the book and the actors playing those characters, who just happen to be named...Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.
So far so good, as the film happily mixes both scenes from Tristrams life (including his amazingly drawn out birth, during which Coogan plays not only Tristrams father, but also narrates as the yet unborn Tristram himself), and the things that go on around the production (Coogan worrying that the heels on his shoes are to low, thereby not giving him enough presence in the film, Brydon mocking Coogans inflated ego with some surprisingly well observed impressions, constant Alan Partridge references, so on and so forth). And aside from Coogan and Brydon, the film boasts a wealth of acting and comedic talent, including Naomi Harris, Dylan Moran, Keeley Hawes and even a brief appearance from Gillian Anderson as the cut from the final film Widow Wadman.
Unfortunately, none of this prevents the film from descending into something of a mess. Whether Winterbottom is trying to say something about the film-making process, something about actors or something about our own pre-conceptions, it is hard to say amidst the confusing jumble that this film becomes. Whilst the film is undoubtedly clever, it is not nearly as clever as it clearly thinks it is. Funny in parts, ironic and knowing in others, it is a confusing whole and lives up to its title only by accident.
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I loved the opening scene, a parody and rip off of Peter Greenaway's 'The Draughtsman's Contract' with its jaunty Elizabethan sounding chamber music and the actors walking around the garden early morning, in period style.

Whether the viewer knows of, or even cares about the unfilmable novel they're supposed to be filming is of little matter. The 18th century novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen, seems obscure and impossible to follow, at least as it's presented here. That's because Michael Winterbottom's follow up to his brilliant 24 Hour Party People, but which goes in an as opposite direction as possible, neatly follows the film being made.

With the current enthusiasm for period drama, with Downton Abbey et al, this is specially pertinent. And with recent TV half-hour comedies, we know that Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon make very comfortable comedic bed-fellows, with impersonating banter and sparring off each other and here, they do just that - and it's great. A whole host of almost every known face in U.K. TV comedy kingdom are somehow dropping in their comments and gags, usually pertinent to the film, some not.

As I said, for most, the actual narrative elements of the novel being filmed quickly take a back seat and attempts to associate scenes with those and what they mean just gets hazy and confusing. So, for us mere mortals, we don't care whether Coogan, as actual modern Steve Coogan is a fictionalised version of the original Tristram Shandy and so the domestic scenes become dreary. We don't really need to see babies being put to bed, do we?

This was my second viewing, on BBC2 and it was still interesting. As a mockumentary, a semi-serious send up of that so very British Institution, the period drama it works well, as does the loosely-written comedic interludes. Though the critics may cringe and disagree (they liked this film), it's probably too clever for its own good but I'm quite comfortable thinking that I'm enjoying a film that the literary dons do, too.
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on 15 April 2015
Well, I went to see it with my Mum and couldn't understand a word of it. The unstoppable rise of Michael Winterbottom continues...
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on 15 December 2013
I think in many ways this film was always going to provoke some excessively negative reviews. It's a combination of Steve Coogan's brand of comedy (which I know many people outside of the UK find quite baffling/annoying) and Tristram Shandy (a book where the main joke is that the story is rambling and never gets to the point). If you lack either of these reference points there's a good chance you won't enjoy it.

Despite that drastically reducing the potential audience of the film, as someone who is both a Steve Coogan fan and a fan of the book I thought it was extremely well done. At times it feels a bit like an extended version of "The Trip" (the more popular comedy series Coogan and Rob Brydon did after this film, which was then turned into a sequel) but the addition of material from the book takes it to a new level.

Overall I'd say that if you can look past all of the negative reviews below and have the patience to go along with the necessarily rambling nature of the film, it's a good watch. It's by no means hilariously funny, but I found it well written, well acted and genuinely entertaining.
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on 10 August 2014
Indispensable for fans of The Trip- same sort of thing, same quality- what could be better?
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on 12 October 2014
Confused and confusing. At least it seems to have inspired the excellent "The Trip"
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on 29 September 2015
Hilarious and funny film. Essentially a precursor to the acclaimed The Trip
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