A Liar's Autobiography Movie Review
Subtitled "The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman", this outrageously colourful animated movie certainly can't be pigeonholed as a documentary or a biopic, even though there are elements of each. The filmmakers use recordings of Chapman reading the book about his life, then hire teams of animators to create a stream-of-consciousness 3D tribute. It's not particularly easy to follow, and the absurdly Pythonesque approach isn't always successful. But the film is such an oddity that fans won't want to miss it.
Whatever it is, this isn't a straightforward retelling of Chapman's life story, although it does loosely fill in the details, with each chapter animated in a distinctly different style. It begins with his rather odd childhood, followed by his years at Cambridge, where he met Cleese, Palin, Gilliam and Jones and formed Monty Python. Their TV sketch show was launched in 1969, an unexpected hit that propelled them to stardom. Along the way, Chapman determines that he's 70 percent gay, and indulges in all the alcohol and sex he could find. He died at age 48 of throat cancer in 1989.
The film is a riotous collection of animation styles, from stop-motion to paper cut-outs. Woven into these segments are TV clips, movie scenes and interviews from the archives, and the surviving Pythons supply the voices along with special guests like Stephen Fry and, yes, Cameron Diaz. It feels oddly rambling, going down random sideroads and indulging in moments that cross lines of taste and propriety. Some segments are sharp and pointed, while others take too long to get to their punchlines. But maybe these are inside jokes we simply don't understand.
Highlights include cleverly intercut scenes from Life of Brian, which starred Chapman in the title role, and a video of Cleese's staggering eulogy at Chapman's funeral. And there's no arguing about the quality and artistry of the animation, as every scene has us scanning the corners for wonderful details. This is experimental filmmaking that requires a lot of attention, and even in the end it's more about the themes than the man himself. It's also about how five friends forever changed the nature of comedy.