Questions abound about this film, an animated dramatisation of a long-forgotten memoir of a long-time dead comedian. Some are of the existential kind.
Such as, why now, some twenty-three years and two months since its subject died? Or even, just why? (The common consensus among those who remember having read it being that A Liar’s Autobiography wasn’t terribly good). Why animated? (All right; there are some grounds for that: there is good archive material of Graham Chapman reading from his book but no video, and Monty Python had a venerable tradition of potty animation to which this picture bears comparison.) But why seventeen different animation studios, in seventeen wildly differing styles? And why in 3D? I can’t imagine there’s still contractual obligation at play here, but all the same it feels rather like a barrel is being scraped.
Graham Chapman was certainly an interesting character, well deserving of a decent biopic, even if not a feature film. But it ought to be a searching one: Chapman, after all, was the Python who most often played the straight man – some irony there – and was the only one who didn’t manage a wildly successful career after the troupe folded. Instead, if one can take at face value anything in this film (which, by its title, doesn’t even pretend to be accurate), Chapman gallivanted around America in a promiscuous, gin fueled haze, a dependency he swung in and out of until his untimely death from cancer in 1989.
That seems a terrible waste of a fine intellect but a transparently flawed personality. Not only irresolute and lacking application (that Chapman needed four helpers to even write this patchy memoir speaks eloquently to that), but seemingly a bully when the mood took him: The Python who suffered most at Chapman’s hands was Eric Idle, who couldn’t find time to be involved in this project even three decades later.
A good topic, then, for a focussed, tightly executed film. Therefore the Yellow Submarine treatment seems ill-judged: this seems like a tortured soul, and the distracting form of this film never allows any chance of a good examination.
While for an hour or so the animation and visual style is diverting enough to make this picture watchable, by the end, after a much darker sequence dealing with Chapman’s emergence from alcoholism, a sixteen ton weight was well overdue. This came, oddly in the form of a long excerpt from John Cleese’s famous eulogy at Chapman’s funeral. It is a classic piece of humour, worthy of anything Monty Python ever did, but it’s hardly news (available on YouTube) and, in the context of an ambitious animated film whose premise has resoundingly failed, the fact that its amateur video footage is even included feels like quite a surrender.
Aficionados may find much to enjoy (although I would call myself an aficionado, and I didn’t); animation and 3D nuts will be in their element, but casual fans may be better advised to find something else to do on a rainy day.
A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman is out in cinemas 8th February 2013.
Directors: Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson, Ben Timlett
Stars: Graham Chapman, Philip Bulcock, John Cleese, Carol Cleveland, Cameron Diaz, Terry Gilliam, André Jacquemin, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Running Time: 85m