Well, he’ll be a monkey’s uncle
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, November 9, 2012
Earning its title, “A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman” tells a few whoppers. But this account of the Python co-founder, who died in 1989, is entirely earnest about many aspects of his life.
The movie’s candor doesn’t yield any great revelations, however, or even a lot of laughs. The animated biopic is for Python cultists and completists only.
In the spirit of “Flying Circus,” the movie is structured as a series of skits, most rendered as 3-D cartoons. (There are also clips from the Monty Python BBC show “The Life of Brian” and television interviews.) Chapman’s own voice is often heard, principally reading from his 1980 book, “A Liar’s Autobiography (Volume VI).”
Other Pythons contribute vocal bits, notably John Cleese’s wicked impersonation of David Frost, for whom Chapman and Cleese worked as writers at the beginning of their careers. Terry Jones, the Python most often seen in a dress, imitates Chapman’s mother, while Michael Palin does his father. And “gratuitous” guest Cameron Diaz provides the voice of Sigmund Freud.
The pop-surrealist animations Terry Gilliam made for “Flying Circus” clearly inspired this movie’s directors, Ben Timlett, Bill Jones and Jeff Simpson. They don’t restrict themselves to Gilliam’s style, though. Fourteen animation studios use 17 disparate styles to illustrate Chapman’s fibs (his parents had a mansion in the South of France) and truths (largely about his healthy appetite for sex and unhealthy one for gin).
Chapman was born in 1941, when Britain was the target of German bombers. So the film’s early episodes include a boyhood fantasy about an RAF crew and a grisly account of body parts scattered through the neighborhood. Then it’s off to Eton, where a cricket ball flies directly at the audience -- the only moment in the movie that really requires a third dimension.
The founding of the Pythons, represented as six talking chimps, gets one chapter. Much more time is devoted to Chapman’s erotic adventures. Although some were with women, he identified not as bisexual but as “a raging poof.” Then there’s alcohol and Chapman’s eventual renunciation of it, which yields hallucinations that are almost as dire as his wartime memories. Throughout it all, Chapman smokes a pipe, presaging his death at 48 from throat cancer.
Naturally, the movie ends with a clip of Cleese’s memorial-service oration, in which he bids his old friend farewell by saying, “Good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard.” That moment is truer to Chapman’s irreverent humor than anything else in “A Liar’s Autobiography.”
Contains profanity, sexual and violent images, alcohol abuse and toilet humor.