Literary Adaptations: Tristram Shandy
Posted by: Keir Graff
I didn’t join the rest of the nation for holiday movie-going this year, but I did manage to sneak in a couple of DVDs amidst the eating, drinking, and general merriment. (Around my house, the merriment sounds exactly like two small boys quoting from The Adventures of Captain Underpants.) My favorite DVD was Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. I’ve been a Steve Coogan fan ever since discovering Knowing Me Knowing You . . . with Alan Partridge and its truly astounding follow-up, I’m Alan Partridge, which takes the discomfort-inducing humor of Curb Your Enthusiasm and turns it up to 11. Coogan also made the very fine Saxondale, but hadn’t seemed to find the right film for his talents (I couldn’t bring myself to watch Hamlet 2).
But, then, I’d completely overlooked Tristram Shandy. It’s a great vehicle for Coogan–his insecure comedy-star character, “Steve Coogan,” is obsessed with getting shoes that make him taller than his co-star–and it’s also a winning adaptation of Laurence Sterne’s classic novel, a metafiction that preceded most conventional fiction. In addition to comedy, a little drama, and a generous helping of behind-the-scenes movie making (for those who like that sort of thing), it also winningly illustrates this interpretation of the novel, voiced by one of the film’s characters:
The theme of Tristram Shandy is a very simple one: life is chaotic. No matter how hard you try, you can’t make it fit any shape.
Here’s the trailer, which gives you an idea. But to really get a better idea, you’ll have to watch the chestnut scene, too (which contains, as they say, strong language).