A Liar’s Autobiography
It might be something of a stretch to call today’s movie a documentary, but it’s not a big stretch. A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman is an animated, (and mostly fictional), adaptation of Monty Python co-founder and lead actor Graham Chapman’s similarly titled, (and similarly fictional), memoir. The film features contributions from all the surviving Pythons, (except Eric Idle), and, most importantly is primarily narrated by Chapman himself. (A nifty trick given that he shuffled off his mortal coil in 1989.)
Chapman’s performance is extracted primarily from a reading of his memoir that he gave just prior to his passing. Chapman’s performance is combined with voice performances recorded specifically for the film, to transform the memoir into something resembling a narrative biopic.
Amongst the actors lending their voices to the project are fellow Pythons; John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam, all voicing themselves, as well as various other characters. Additional performers include Carol Cleveland, Philllip Bulcock (as Chapman’s partner David Sherlock), and Cameron Diaz.
The film consists of a series of vignettes each animated in a radically style. In true Monty Python form, sometimes a scene will transition directly into another unrelated scene, while other scenes come to a deliberate stop before the film launches into something completely different.
The real shame then, is that it’s just not very good. There are some excellent moments, to be sure, but for the most part it’s just an upper-middleclass twit rambling on for ninety-minutes about how he discovered his sexuality, and his hedonistic lifestyle as an international celebrity in the 1970s. The film varying animation styles make the interesting enough to look at, but aren’t enough to compensate for the fact that it’s all dreadfully boring.
The film is largely joyless, and haphazard. It lacks that wry charm that made proper Monty Python so much fun. Certainly the film’s three directors, (never a good sign), set themselves an ambitious goal in adapting a adapting the memoir into a film in this manner. They do succeed in overcoming all the technical challenges. The film flows well… but it just feels cold and almost soulless.
Now, normally I’d say that the opportunity to learn more about Chapman, who I’ve always admired, would make up for a certain lack of enjoyment, but, of course, there’s no telling what, if anything, in this film is actually true. (It’s right there on the label.) There are some fun moments, (such as a clip of Chapman in costume as King Arthur on the set of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, convincing a reporter there to interview the star of the film that he’s just an extra, not said star), but these are too few, and too far between. At times it really feels like the filmmakers didn’t realize that this should be a comedy.
I wanted to like this movie. I was excited about seeing it. Part of me still wants to recommend it, to say that it’s at least worth seeing… but I can’t. It comes close, but I’ve got to conclude that A Liar’s Autobiography is Not Worth Seeing.