The Meaning of Life (1983)

(Second viewing, Netflix Streaming, September 2017) Middle-age is the time in our lives when we confront some of the things we thought we understood about ourselves, and as I finish watching The Meaning of Life, I struggle to articulate the possibility that … maybe… I just don’t like Monty Python as much as I thought I did. Heresy thus being stated, I’ll immediately backtrack by saying that the material in The Meaning of Life feels very familiar: Not only was Monty Python an omnipresent reference in my nerdy pre-web Internet hangouts back in the nineties, I watched the film back then and must have internalized most of it. Still, watching it today, I wasn’t particularly moved to laughter by the on-screen antics. While there is a lot of clever stuff, much of it feels said, overdone, or rather done better elsewhere. Leaving aside the seminal influence of the film over latter generations of comics, I found the musical numbers interminable and the comedy somewhat obvious. Now annoying more than amusing, The Meaning of Life has aged poorly not in its depiction of circa-1983 life, but in the grade of comedy being attempted. Here we have some very smart people trying for shock crude comedy and while the attempt to mesh comic philosophy with an assault on conventional values is interesting to discuss, the impact feels muted today. Out-shocked by its descendants, The Meaning of Life remains clever, but the crudity takes away what should have remained effective. Or maybe, facing the truth again for one ghastly moment, I simply don’t like Monty Python as much as I thought.

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