A Liar’s Autobiography

Film review by Steve Bennett

This being the story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, you probably wouldn’t expect anything too conventional. Any by having 14 animation studios all cover various chapters in his life, each in a visual style completely unlike the last, this 3D film certainly stands in a psychedelic class of its own.

There are some things it isn’t, however. It’s not a Python film for starters, despite the fact all the surviving Pythons have contributed voiceovers (save for Eric Idle who presumably wanted to spent more time with his Spamalot money) and the fact that odd animation is so intrinsically linked to the Pythons, thanks to Terry Gilliam.

Nor will A Liar’s Autobiography bring you especially closer to understanding who Chapman was. As the title suggests, these anecdotes, taken from his 1980 memoirs, lie somewhere between the truth and tall tales. Yet it conveys the broad idea of how his unexceptional Leicester upbringing and very traditional parents led him to escape in a world of imagination... as well as the events that made him an inveterate show-off and proud ‘pooftah’, as he delighted in calling himself. He had to make perfectly sure he didn’t fancy women, though, by sleeping with absolutely loads of them, and the film treats his sexual experimentation with the sniggering schoolboy excess you might expect.

From the dreary rain-sodden holidays of post-war England to drunken Hollywood parties with the likes of Keith Moon, we get a strong sense of his character, and the hedonistic, but bleakly empty life he would ultimately have as a celebrity alcoholic. Such stories make for some funny scenes, and the imagination that’s gone into the animations is impressive, making the film a fine showcase of that art. But it’s only visually engaging, not emotionally so, making it’s hard to care too much about the tragic Python.

Masterminded by Bill Jones, son of Terry, the film is narrated by Chapman himself, who handily recorded his own words three years before he ceased to be in 1989. The rest of the Pythons appear as monkeys, memorably, while oddest cameo of the year has to go to Cameron Diaz, who pops up as Sigmund Freud.

Yet for all this, A Liar’s Autobiography fees like a leaden film, even at a brief 82 minutes. Like the criticism levelled at so much of the Pythons’ output, the film is odd but uneven, with some great scenes sitting alongside others that go on too long without the narrative punchlines they could really do with.

Hardcore Pythonistas will need to encouragement to view, but for everyone else the jury is probably still out.

  • A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story Of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman is released in cinemas today. It will be out on Blu-Ray ad DVD from February 18. Click here to preorder it.

Here’s a trailer

Published: 8 Feb 2013

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