Monty Python fans may rejoice at news of Bill Jones (son of Python’s Terry Jones) joining forces with fellow directors Jeff Simpson and Ben Timlett for their take on the late Graham Chapman’s 1980s liberal spin on his own life, A Liar’s Autobiography (2012). This new mockumentary of the same name follows in a similarly fallacious vein, attempting to capture Chapman’s camp, witty and surreal personality through a series of animations. At times these animations are reminiscent of American-born Python Terry Gilliam’s unique style, but vary in success and quality as they shift between CGI and traditional hand-drawn characters.
Chapman’s life, as it is presented, shows a journey of addiction to tobacco, alcohol and sex as he moves from his working class background to Cambridge University (where he met lifelong friend John Cleese) to his premature death in 1989. The erratic nature of this (at best) mildly comic feature means it possesses little narrative cohesion, jumping between the numerous pivotal points of the comedian’s life. Surprisingly the film lacks any moments of real comedy. Like bubblegum, it’s lurid and occasionally pops, but it’s also as hollow as a bubble, with the same nutritional value.
Chapman describes his character as “not a mincing poof, but a butch one with a pipe.” Lines like these frequently demonstrate the comedian’s camp and highly British sensibilities, that gave birth to some wonderfully surreal comedy in other work. Sexuality is also a key theme throughout A Liar’s Autobiography, where numerous animations revel in crass delight of Chapman’s plethora of sexual encounters. Occasionally, the plot leans towards demonstrating that Chapman was a man who, whilst open about his sexuality, was equally uncomfortable with being gay – a very British trait of the era.
Disappointingly, this straightforward adaptation of the faux biography gives precious little serious insight and never holds much weight. Instead, Jones, Simpson and Timlett prefer to indulge in endless scenes of a cartoon Chapman bonking everything in sight (male or female) as he chugs back glass after glass of whisky, represented in increasingly blundering animations. The odd choice of 3D further weakens the film, where the usual dull, gimmicky tricks (things unconvincingly flying out at you ad nauseam) have been inappropriately employed with little care or forethought.
There is a strong sense that Chapman’s self-deprecating lyrical prose, used to narrate the story, works far, far better on the page. However, the very way that A Liar’s Autobiography has been brought to the big screen saps all the flavour and humour, lacking any of the real bite possessed by one of our most beloved Pythons.
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