“Monty Python’s Life of Brian” Movie Review

Not going to lie, after watching this movie, I’m genuinely considering changing my name to Biggus Dickus just for laughs. This historical comedy film was originally released in U.S. theaters on August 17th, 1979, followed by a U.K release 3 months later. While it grossed over 5 times its $4 million budget and became one of the year’s highest grossing films, its religious themes courted massive controversy in major countries and was banned for years in places like Ireland and Norway. It also led to a highly anticipated and publicized T.V. interview between two of the stars, conservative radio host Malcolm Muggeridge, and Mervyn Stockwood the Bishop of Southwark. Despite all of this, it generally received positive reviews from most publications, and has been retroactively named one of the funniest films ever made. Directed by Terry Jones, this marks the third feature-length effort of the Monty Python comedy group, after The Holy Grail. Days before production was originally supposed to begin, the studio EMI Films backed out due to being scared by the controversial script. Eventually former Beatles member George Harrison created his own production company, HandMade Films, and funded the project in its entirety. Set in Roman-occupied Judea during biblical times, Graham Chapman stars as Brian Cohen, a young Jewish man born on the same day and vicinity as Jesus Christ. Through a series of ridiculous circumstances, including getting involved with Pontius Pilate, he becomes mistaken for a prophet by the locals. Without much choice at all and little clue for how to advance, he takes on the persona of a reluctant Messiah for wary travelers and a radical anti-Roman political organization. I’ve been a really huge fan of the Monty Python troupe for quite some time now. To this day, 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail still remains my favorite comedy film of all time, and one I quote on a daily basis. I also think that their sketch comedy show, The Flying Circus, is a template for all sketchy comedy today, even if some of their humor hasn’t aged all that well. But for some reason, I had not yet seen their follow-up feature or their later effort, the sketch film The Meaning of Life. And since it was finally made available on Netflix the past few months, I figured this would be as good a time as any to review it and include it as part of my New Year’s resolution. In the end, I ultimately prefer Holy Grail to this film, but I still recognize that Monty Python’s Life of Brian is just as hilarious and witty as I would expect from these comedians. I will say that I think this film is ultimately more focused and brainier than I normally find the troupe to be. Holy Grail was a lot broader with different areas or themes to explore such as politics, death, and what actually qualifies as bravery, but more often than not felt like a series of sewn-together sketches that were too high-budgeted for the show. Life of Brian on the other hand, tries to take on a more coherent look at religious attitudes from different groups (Rather than organized religion itself) as well as the hypocrisy of left-wing organizations in Europe during the 1970’s. That being said, there is still some humor that just doesn’t hold up very well by today’s standards. The very first scene in the entire film involves brief but wholly unnecessary blackface for one of the actors. Not only that, but there are a handful of somewhat transphobic gags throughout the film, some definitely more noticeable than others. But if you’re able to get past that, (And again, most of it is pretty brief) the second half of this movie is pure gold. The 6 members of the Monty Python troupe all return here, each playing various characters from scene to scene. Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, and Eric Idle all inhabit each character they play with surprising ease and versatility. Chapman is mostly resigned to playing Brian, and he’s a far cry from his role as King Arthur. Easily confused and hopelessly romantic, he wants nothing to do with any of his followers and brilliantly stumbles from one place to the next. Pailn and Cleese also regularly impress with the amount they do. For Cleese, his turn as the leader of a fractious anti-Roman group who talks more than he acts has incredible deadpan delivery and timing in every written line. Palin also deserves attention for his turn as the Roman politician Pontius Pilate, whose unexpected speech impediment and higher-pitched voice makes for one truly side-splitting scene when he berates a group of centurions. Meanwhile, with a higher budget than they’ve previously worked with, the technical aspects of Monty Python’s Life of Brian manage to impress regularly. The second feature-length film shot by Peter Biziou, there are many grand, sweeping shots meant to imitate biblical epics of previous decades. The frequent use of zooms and pans also help to reveal ridiculous little details in numerous scenes, such as various anachronisms. Everything is well-lit so that the reactions of various actors to certain situations can be captured- and more often than not, they’re resisting the urge to burst out laughing. It matches up well with the editing by Julian Doyle, who would go on to collaborate extensively with Terry Gilliam. For most of the scenes, there are few cuts, drawing out the irony and sarcasm of their absolutely savage lines. This is particularly great considering a number of scenes were cut at nearly the last minute. And like much of the troupe’s work, there are a couple of animated sequences edited in here and there, allowing even more absurd humor to come in. In his first (And most notable) film credit, Geoffrey Burgon composes and conducts the instrumental film score. Many of the tracks consist of sweeping strings and brass, befitting of a Charlton Heston epic from the Golden Age of Hollywood. But as usual, the soundtrack’s biggest draw are a handful of silly songs written and performed by the core 6 comedians themselves. This includes a fantastic opening song that parodies James Bond songs with glorious vocals and orchestration. The most popular one, though, is “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” performed by Eric Idle at the end. It’s simple in composition and rather uplifting in tone; no wonder it’s the most requested funeral song in Britain. Like most of the troupe’s work, this might just be too silly for some viewers out there to enjoy. I know a handful of people who don’t like Holy Grail or The Flying Circus at all because they’re so weird and unusual. I do think they’ll have a better chance of getting into this film because it is ultimately more focused. As long as they can move passed some of the outdated gags. Monty Python’s Life of Brian is a scathingly funny satire of biblical proportions. Although Holy Grail is still my favorite that they’ve created, there’s little denying the Monty Python’s accomplishment here. And despite its controversy, it proves to be supremely hilarious and insightful into religious attitudes. Any film that can manage to get banned from Ireland AND Norway is automatically worth turning heads.

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