And now for something completely different: a Monty Python movie that is completely, painfully, blindingly unfunny. Well, to be fair, “A Liar’s Autobiography” isn’t really a Python flick, more of a homage to Python done by 14 different animators. But with poster art that deliberately resembles that of the comedy troupe’s classic “Life of Brian” and a banner with “Monty Python” swirling at the top, let the blame fall where it may.
“The good is oft interred with their bones,” wrote the Great Bard about death, and so it seems with the late Python member Graham Chapman, whose comic memoir serves as this film’s bedrock. The film works off an old 1986 recording of Chapman reading his book, but it’s set to wildly hit-or-miss styles of animation, the overall zany and hyperactive tone of which sits strangely with Chapman’s perfectly deadpan delivery.
Chapman narrates an embellished version of his own life, theoretically looking back on it from beyond the grave. There’s his childhood — an endless and unfunny scene of his parents bickering in the car in some dreary English seaside holiday town — and some Freudian analysis of it; and his college days at Cambridge, where he realizes that he’s gay (“I became a raging poof … but a butch one with a pipe”). The film follows him as he gives up medical school for comedy and joins the other comedians who form Monty Python — all but Eric Idle contribute voice acting to the film — and then depicts his alcoholism and sex addiction after moving to Los Angeles.
Since much of this reflects the real Chapman’s life -he was a notorious drunk during the Python years, and was also one of Britain’s first celebrities to come out — you must be wondering where the “liar” part comes in. Partly it’s in the details, such as getting drunk with the Queen at a college reception. But mostly it’s in the flights of fancy, which are rendered by the animators as lazy surrealism, pointless and tiring nonsense involving penis cars, aerial dogfights with Biggles, and the Pythons rendered as a group of talking monkeys. Terry Gilliam could eat the lot of them for breakfast.
The “Sit on My Face” musical number, lifted from Python’s “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” movie, falls completely flat here; the original parody of a barbershop quartet — short and sharp and with a perfect exit joke — had context, and here it’s just extended animated riffing that goes nowhere, though it’s material Seth MacFarlane might have pulled off. Perhaps the best joke in the film is the simple act of getting Cameron Diaz to do the voice of Sigmund Freud.
Yet nothing is more telling than when the film incorporates a bit of an old Python sketch (“The Spanish Inquisition”) or the real John Cleese giving the eulogy at Chapman’s funeral; these laugh-out-loud moments underline how unfunny the rest of the film is.
We’ve all met the Python geek who, once started, will drone on and on reciting all the group’s best lines in a bad British accent, only serving to prove that it’s not the material, it’s the delivery. That, in a nutshell, is “A Liar’s Autobiography.”
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