Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: R for language, nudity and adult themes
Run Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Comedian Steve Coogan knocks one out of the park as the egocentric luminary of Michael Winterbottom’s bawdy behind-the-scenes comedy that neatly straddles antiquated fantasy and contemporary reality.
Laurence Stern’s classically complicated 18th century comic novel “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman” is considered by many in the industry to be unfilmable. Nevertheless a rag-tag bunch of 21st century filmmakers is tackling the project with Coogan – who calls “Shandy” a post-modern classic -- as their muse.
Winterbottom plays it fast and loose with his narrative, digging deep into the tattle-tale guts of shoestring filmmaking while concurrently recounting the ribald tale of the gentleman himself, with Coogan standing in as both the old-fashioned T.S. and as the actor portraying him onscreen.
Coogan fancies himself a superstar and acts every inch of it; arrogant, self-absorbed and roundly insistent on maintaining his method while desperately trying to ignore the insecurities of bit players, loitering tabloid reporters thirsting for scandal, and the inevitable balking investors.
Clever bits abound as filming commences and Coogan burns the candle at both ends, spoofing the supercilious movie-star by hitting on a sexy female subordinate and playing reluctant host cum two-timer to visiting lover Jenny (Kelly Macdonald) and their infant son.
No comic stone is left unturned, packaged with bone-dry English wit that looks great on Coogan and savvy co-stars Shirley Henderson, Stephen Fry, Rob Brydon, etc. Winterbottom channels Robert Altman’s talky, ambient style with voyeuristic flair; open mikes and mad commotion shoring up ticks of flagging energy. Best of the new years’ bunch.