Life of Brian (1979)

(On TV, August 2017) I really thought I’d enjoy Life of Brian more than I did. After all, I claim to have a fondness for British humour, iconoclasm, witty dialogue and absurd comedy—and Life of Brian has all of those in vast quantities. A creation of the Monty Python brain trust, it’s an affectionate poke at the story of Christianity, executed with surprisingly decent means as the film credibly recreates the usual atmosphere of biblical epics. Over and over again, the film uses this visual credibility as a mean through which to heighten the absurdity of its situations and dialogue—most notably in portraying a simple man getting tangled up in revolutionary politics and being mistaken for a profound messiah. But what, on paper, sounds remarkably funny only ends up being mildly amusing on-screen. Some of the less funny stuff (such as Ponce Pilatus’s speech impediment) is hammered until it becomes numbing, and the film does have a tendency to highlight its proudest moments rather than attempt to flow better. One of the consequences of coupling a serious presentation with absurd jokes is that there can be quite a lull between the jokes. As a result, I was more entertained than amused during the film, even though I kept recognizing how clever it was. I’m not saying that it’s a bad film—it’s quite successful at what it tries to do, and better conceived than most comedies. Transforming a tragic ending into an uplifting song number (that is still hummed today!) takes a mad genius … but it doesn’t mean that it will be successful from beginning to end. This being said, so many geeky references are made to Life of Brian than it remains practically mandatory viewing, no matter the effectiveness of the result.

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