A Cock and Bull Story (2005) Review

The fact that this film had a unique style and structure meant that I was always, quite inevitably, going to have an issue with aspects of it. In my opinion, when a film tries something a bit different, it’s either brilliant (like Memento) or it’s actually only ok (like The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.) The positive aspect of a Cock and Bull Story is that I was really interested in half of the film, one aspect of its unique structure but then bored or puzzled by the other half.

The film is an adaptation of the book Tristram Shandy but also the “mock-behind the scenes” of how that film is made. That means the film jumps from being the actual movie to then becoming the “behind the scenes” film. For example, Steve Coogan plays the lead in the Tristram Shandy adaptation and also himself, making the film. It isn’t actually as confusing as I’ve managed to make it sound and when the film begins and you get your head around this unique structure, it is actually quite an interesting approach.

A small glimpse at the Tristan Shandy film they are trying to make

The problem was, the further on the film went, the more I was interested in the “behind the scenes” bits than I was the film they were trying to make. It was much more interesting seeing Coogan argue with Rob Brydon over costume, how to save money on battle scenes and also scandals about the film stars coming out in the next morning’s papers. I liked the glimpse at how the film was made but then got slightly frustrated or disappointed when it quickly flicked back to the “proper” film.

The comedy you’d expect from a Steve Coogan film, particularly one where he is playing himself, comes mainly from his interaction with other people. Although the film they are trying to make is a comedy as well, the funniest or at least most amusing bits, are in the “behind the scenes” sections. As you’d expect, the funniest moments are the interactions between Coogan and Rob Brydon, a precursor to the brilliant “The Trip” that they made last year.

The “behind the scenes” film is much better than the actual film they are trying to make.

In fact, I always wonder how much Coogan and Brydon are actually “acting.” I can always imagine that Brydon can be slightly irritating with his impressions and constant, likable charm, particularly if you are someone like Coogan who constantly comes across as pretentious, self-centered and arrogant. It makes the film slightly more interesting because it does begin to feel like we are getting a much more real glimpse at how making a film with Coogan would be. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the “behind the scenes” moments were improvised.

That is why the film disappointed me. Tristram Shandy is described, in the movie itself, as an unfilmable book and I can imagine why. The actual film they are trying to make in Cock and Bull story is confusing and slightly silly. Its funny in places but never as entertaining as the “behind the scenes” sections, which would have made a brilliant film in itself.

A small glimpse at how random the Tristram Shandy film is!

They probably missed a golden opportunity here. If they had made Tristram Shandy separate to the “making of” then they would probably have two really good films, or at least one great film and one watchable, quirky movie, rather than one film that has two little of both, forced together. I’d much rather see how the film was made than the actual film they are making.

Overall, Cock and Bull Story is slightly strange, very quirky and weird in places and sometimes too random but when you get past those moments, you actually have a great “making of” film hidden in there too. If they’d concentrated on that aspect of the story rather than trying to be “clever” or just doing too much in a small amount of time, they would have made a film that was much better.

Rating 3

(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)

Not as good as the brilliant “The Trip.”
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