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Two actors, as their make up is applied, talk about the size of their parts. Then into the film: Laurence Sterne's unfilmable novel, Tristram Shandy, a fictive autobiography wherein the narrator, interrupted constantly, takes the entire story to be born. The film tracks between "Shandy" and behind the scenes. Size matters: parts, egos, shoes, noses. The lead's girlfriend, with their infant son, is up from London for the night, wanting sex; interruptions are constant. Scenes are shot, re-shot, and discarded. The purpose of the project is elusive. Fathers and sons; men and women; cocks and bulls. Life is amorphous, too full and too rich to be captured in one narrative. Written by
Film version of a possibly unfilmable--some might say unreadable--novel
Just saw this at the New York Film Festival, where it was met with the wild enthusiasm and raucous laughter it so fully deserves.
I intentionally avoided reading any reviews before I went, as I was so curious to see how Winterbottom (whose "24-Hour Party People" I had loved) would approach this bear of a book.
The film begins with the two stars getting made-up and chatting about the size of their roles and the color of their teeth (the actors, who appeared with Winterbottom in the post-screening Q&A at the festival, assured the audience that this opening scene, as well as their conversation over the end credits, was completely improvised). The scene shifts to Tristram Shandy beginning the narration of his life with an anecdote about Groucho Marx--and proceeds to go wild from there.
The cast is made up of some of the finest actors in British television--apart from the two leads, Dylan Moran of "Black Books" and David Walliams of "Little Britain" appear, as well as Stephen Fry, Shirley Henderson, and a host of others, including a splendid turn by Keeley Hawes in a role that consists of little more than labor pains and screaming--and one American: Gillian Anderson in a couple of wonderful scenes, one as herself and the other as the Widow Wadman.
As one of the actors observes in the film, Laurence Sterne had written "a post-modern novel before modernism had even been invented," and Winterbottom honors that admirably.
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