Suck It, Guv'nor.
The English have a very unique style of filmmaking. Rather than taking the path of least resistance, as many national cinemas do, the UK film industry refuses to merely ape the style and form of Hollywood cinema. Instead, they take American films and add a gentle touch of flaming homosexuality, like accenting a severe gray suit with a lavender tie. No matter how gangster the lean, how slap the stick, delivering every line of dialogue from the mouths of pasty, rail-thin fops with accents like Victorian aristocrats with head-colds gives British film a unique flavor, and that flavor is semen. I love British comedy, as well as the English take on the gangster film, but there’s no way to be either tough or manly when you sound like Lord Bullingdon from Barry Lyndon. Tristram Shandy is no different. Here, Michael Winterbottom and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce attempt the grand experiment of filming an unfilmmable novel, and succeed in gaying up Adaptation.
And, of course, it’s brilliant, because all great art comes from some form of mental illness, be it depression, schizophrenia, or homosexuality. The film is based on a book that seems so bizarre I’m not sure I believe it exists, despite owning it. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a rambling, wonderfully self indulgent piece of structuralist literature that’s so strange it’s been labelled post-modern by people who learned the term from Scream, despite the book being written in the 1760s. However, about 20 minutes into the film, it stops being about the book and starts being about the movie crew making the film. This is pretty annoying on paper, but fairly satisfying on screen. The book itself is about tangents and unpredictability, so it’s fitting that the film follows the same pattern.
The cast is comprised of a “who’s who” of British actors, a stellar collection of preening queers unmatched even by the most densely cast volume of Priape’s School of Hard Cocks. Steve Coogan stars as Tristram Shandy and himself, no doubt because he jumps at any chance to talk directly to the camera. Rob Brydon, unfortunately from Little Briton, co-stars, along with the black girl from 28 Days Later and that pretty blonde with the horrifically crass Scottish brogue that’s in Extras. The film moves quickly and chaotically, adapting the novel in spirit if not in story, so in its own way, it makes a comment about the very process of adaptation that’s actually quite refreshing to hear. Or rather it would be, if it were intelligible over the mouthful of cock this movie’s sucking.