Tristram Shandy
Seriously, that’s how I got through college.

Theatrical Release Date: 01/20/2006 (UK), 01/27/2006 (USA)
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Kelly Macdonald, Shirley Henderson, Jeremy Northam, Gillian Anderson

Say these words out loud: “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story”. Fun, huh? You just have to love a film that was able to put ‘Cock’ in the title and get it released nationwide. Usually to do so, you’d have to have an army of PETA storm troopers onset to make sure no cocks were harmed while filming the dangerous fight scenes.

Alas, there are no death matches in “Tristram Shandy”. The ‘Cock’ in the title actually refers to a penis. So again, kudos to getting this title approved across America.

Putting aside the reason behind the title, “Tristram Shandy” is actually a film within a film. Based on the novel, “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman” by Laurence Sterne, director Michael Winterbottom attempts to create a film that both tells the tale set in the novel and showcases the trials and tribulations of making a low budget motion picture.

To do so, Winterbottom called upon Steve Coogan to embody not only the title character, but the character’s father and Coogan himself. I know what most of you are saying. Who the hell is Steve Coogan?

While not too many people in America know Coogan by name, he is quite well known in his native England … think a British version of David Schwimmer, only someone who can act. His performance in last year’s “Happy Endings” even drew a best supporting actor nomination in my 2005 Golden Mugs.

All of that notwithstanding, Coogan’s ability to be both immoral and vulnerable all in an endearing fashion is exceptional. Many other actors would have just seemed creepy or slimy but in Coogan’s portrayal of his roles, you just hope he’ll get things right in the end.

The supporting cast is all excellent as well, spearheaded by what could be termed a ‘co-lead’ in Rob Brydon. As the ‘co-lead’ in the inner film of ‘Tristram Shandy’, he and Coogan are constantly at odds to see who has the bigger part.

In addition to Brydon, Kelly Macdonald, Shirley Henderson, Jeremy Northam and Gillian Anderson, among a host of others, all lend their talents to pulling off a rather contrived idea.

You see, the problem with “Tristram Shandy” is in trying to make this fictional film seem interesting while at the same time presenting a look at what actors and filmmakers may be doing when they’re not in front of the camera.

Whatever merits the novel may have had are lost in the casual look into its characters and their motivations. Instead of being the centerpiece of the film, the novel is instead a thin veil of a backdrop used to create a reason to bring all these actors together.

I suppose it might be different if I had read the novel but we all know I was pulled out of school at an early age and lack the cognitive abilities to comprehend a book any bigger than “Babar does Dallas” … what did I just write?

However, where “Tristram Shandy” excels is in the characters portraying themselves and the behind the scenes bickering. All of the joking, scandals and budget concerns are enjoyable and give this film life.

My own ineptitude, illiteracy and idiocy aside, British film fans and those who are interested and amused by what happens behind the scenes will find something to enjoy in “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story”. I’m giving it a 3 out of 5 and will just keep my eyes open for more Steve Coogan sightings in the future, cock and all.