Last week I saw the film Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and enjoyed it. I was surprised to discover, though, how much it had in common with the later film The Trip. Both are Michael Winterbottom films that allow actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon to improvise fictional, unflattering versions of themselves.
In Tristram Shandy, though, their banter serves their exploration of the novel they are supposedly trying to adapt. In The Trip, the banter is the entire point, and that quickly becomes unpleasant to watch. It doesn’t matter if Coogan really is fame-hungry and self-absorbed, as long as we can look away from him and see something else. We can’t do that in The Trip.
I found the Jesse Eisenberg play Asuncion dull for the same reason: we aren’t given the opportunity to see anything else in the play besides Eisenberg’s clueless central character. It’s perfectly valid for Eisenberg’s Edgar to be pathetically narcissistic, but that’s all we get. I know some people will sit through a bad play to see a great performance, but Eisenberg gives us neither. (Asuncion isn’t bad, just flimsy.)
Then again, I have the opposite problem. I’m juggling a few projects right now that that require strong characters, but I’ve written no one who isn’t even-tempered. I should be so lucky to have an obnoxious, abrasive character that threatens to take over the entire play. I want that threat, I just don’t want that result.