Michael Winterbottom is one of those directors whose career is so varied that it can be easy to lose sight of him beneath his films. But his work is always at least interesting, and never more so than with Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, adapted sort of from Laurence Sterne's aggressively unfilmable novel.

Steve Coogan stars as "Steve Coogan," although "Steve Coogan's Ego" is probably a better name. "Coogan" is playing what he expects to be the lead role of Tristram/Tristram's father Walter in an adaptation of Tristram Shandy, although he fears the ever-increasing size of Tristram's uncle Toby, played by "Rob Brydon," played by Rob Brydon. It sounds like an actor-centric variant on Adaptation. and it plays that way, mixed with the "how the hell do movies actually get made?" misadventure of Day for Night. And to complete the postmodern films-about-films trifecta, the score liberally borrows from Nino Rota's work for 8ยฝ, and you start to think that yeah, there's a bit of that too, when it becomes hard to separate the film that the characters are making from the film that you're watching.

The whole thing is ultimately less satisfying than any of those three films, largely because it is so solipsistic; but isn't that the point? It's about a man high in the running for Most Solipsistic Actor of All Time - "Steve Coogan" is a monster of self-regard, completely unable to think of anything other than himself or the direction of his career (in one of the film's best scenes, "Coogan" is interviewed by Tony Wilson, the journalist Coogan played in Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People. When Wilson wants to joke about that in his article, "Coogan" huffs that he's moved beyond it and doesn't want to dwell on the past). In that respect, endless naval-gazing isn't just acceptable, it's thematically vital. Not to mention that the film's directionless plot and unfocused collection of digressions are actually as true to Tristram Shandy as any adaptation of that book could hope to be. And if that weren't enough, it's the funniest movie I've seen in longer than I care to think.