The Life and Death of Peter Sellers Movie Review

Discussion topic: Which of the following people can accurately be described as "comic geniuses"? Woody Allen. Adam Sandler. Groucho Marx. Gilda Radner.

You're unlikely to get consensus on such a phrase, except for one: Peter Sellers. Everybody knows he was a genius, right?

Sellers was in fact an immensely successful movie star, but his elusive adaptability made him truly great. He achieved box office viability in the United States with the broadest possible physical comedy (the Pink Panther series), but also garnered a powerful artistic legacy from his star turns in seriocomic masterpieces (Dr. Strangelove and Being There). Sellers differentiator was that, unlike, say, Allen or Sandler, he was a uniquely talented actor. But he was also apparently plenty of other things to the people around him, none of which garnered acclaim.

In The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, based on Roger Lewis' biography of the man, director Stephen Hopkins and star Geoffrey Rush take on the challenge of creating an emotionally engaging biopic of man who was, of his own admission, an empty vessel. Indeed, this Sellers is so obsessed with his own vacant self, so star struck, that he can only relate to other humans by using and discarding them.

Rush's Sellers lies to his wives, emotionally savages his children, deludes himself about his relationships with co-stars and partners, and basically acts like a spoiled jackass in his push for fame and fortune. Egged on by his coddling and Machiavellian mother (Margolyes), Sellers botches stardom badly, leaving a polluted wake of disgust and loathing. But no one loathes Sellers quite like himself, and his famous method acting only enabled him to avoid himself for a few weeks of filming.

In an unusual dramatic twist, Rush performs monologues as other characters in Sellers' life in order to illustrate the extremity of the man's ego. Overall, however, Hopkins maintains an air of ambiguity about Sellers' psyche, which occasionally reduces the film to emotional snuff, nothing more than a parade of unabated personal destruction. Sellers' borderline humanity created a tortuously unhappy life, and the gloominess of this cinematic version contrasts jarringly with the vibrancy of Sellers' work.

The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is worth a viewing if only for Rush's plotting and violent outbursts, but be warned: Next time you catch a Pink Panther flick on cable, you might find yourself rooting for Cato.


The Life and Death of Peter Sellers Rating

" Good "

Rating: NR, 2004


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