“I say you are Lord, and I should know. I’ve followed a few.”
Well, it’s good to be back. After 6 weeks of travel, I’m more than excited to dive back into these movies. With 943 to go, there’s really no time to waste. I was actually able to watch quite a few films while away (mostly on plane rides), and several of them happened to be placed on the 1001 List. I return today by discussing Life of Brian, a seminal work of Monty Python that some even consider their finest film. It tells the story of Brian, a simple Jewish townsman who happens to be living in the same time and place as Jesus Christ. When he accidentally starts a major religion and gains hoards of followers himself, Brian must face persecution and even crucifixion in one of the most hilarious “religious” tales ever conceived.
I should admit that Monty Python has a lot of work that doesn’t really resonate with me. If you watch a lot of their sketches, you may note a formulaic style of comedy. Anyone can learn the standard rules of what’s funny by watching this kind of work; there’s a set-up, a punchline, and the game is repeated to absurdity for comedic effect. However, my personal tastes reflect a more offbeat approach to comedy, or at least one with some sting to it. I think this is why I actually liked The Life of Brian. Unlike some of their previous work, Monty Python puts this movie in the form of a commentary. These religious beliefs people hold so dearly could just boil down to a silly set of coincidences, and that’s really funny to think about. With this backdrop of the Jesus Christ story, the jokes all seem a lot stronger. You could say that the shock value of the sacrilege is what’s funny and that there isn’t as much insight as people give it credit for, and maybe that’s true, but it also feels like a lot smarter of a movie.This isn’t some copy-paste slapstick sketch like you might see in Flying Circus. It’s one of the rarer instances in which Monty Python has something to say, and for that, I really admire the film.
As a sketch comedy group, Monty Python has the added advantage of writing, directing, and acting in the same piece of work. With years of comedic experience and complete artistic trust between them, the performances in the movie are phenomenal. The same handful of guys playing nearly every major role really works for a satirical piece such as this, and Life of Brian feels like one extended sketch. Graham Chapman shows strong comedic work with his portrayal of Brian. Chapman’s wide-eyed clueless face drives the movie wonderfully as Brian stumbles his way through this wacky journey. However, Terry Jones gives my favorite performance as Brian’s mother, a screeching old woman who never fails to get a laugh with her strident antics.
Although it has been hailed as the greatest comedy of all time by some, I wouldn’t say this is a perfect movie by any means. All the jokes don’t land evenly, and there are bits in the film where you really expect a clever twist or punchline only to be left disappointed by some cliche slapstick routine. The film paces itself well, but a lot of scenes only seem to exist to chase a joke that doesn’t land. When you watch a movie that is so satirical and silly wherein its only goal is racking up the laughs, those laughs really have to happen or you just end up wasting time. One-off bits are forgivable if the plot is moving forward, but there are a few scenes in Life of Brian which feel like a waste of time to me if I don’t find them funny. That’s just in their nature as a sketch comedy group, of course, but this kind of structure certainly has its downsides in a full length film.
While there are some weak points in the movie, the good easily outweighs the bad in this case, and Life of Brian is absolutely worth your time if you’re looking to get a smile on your face. When this movie works, it works big, and some of the sequences in Life of Brian are so clever that you have to admire what these guys are capable of creating. Even though the style isn’t right in line with my tastes, I still believe it’s a film that comedic writers today should look to for inspiration, if only for the risks it takes and its disciplined approach to great laughs.
Films Left to Watch: 942