Friday, November 19, 2010

Review: Life of Brian (1979)

Director: Terry Jones
Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam

"All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?"

British humor is its own institution. It’s just about one of the most trademarked, idiosyncratic styles of comedy out there, love it or hate it. And one can’t even talk about British humor in the modern day without referencing at least once or twice the comedic bastion known as Monty Python. What better way to exemplify everything that is great about this style than by reviewing one of the early classics, Life of Brian? I don’t know, so…I guess we’ll just do this the way I always do it.

This movie is hilarious because it stares right at Jesus Christ for like, a second before veering the camera off to the side to focus on a regular average Joe who isn’t interesting in the least by himself. Life of Brian works because it flaunts itself as sarcastically as possible, as often as possible. Right from the opening where the three astronomers come in and bless the baby who they think is their savior, the movie doesn’t let up. Every second bombards you with another joke and that is how it always should be – fast paced with jokes crammed into every orifice. Then you get this completely goofy song sequence while the credits roll over a cartoon side-scrolling adventure, informing us that Brian, that kid who they mistakenly thought was Jesus, is ‘not a woman.’ That’s important to know!

The movie is basically a case of mistaken identity, even though almost everyone in this movie is played in traditional Python format by one of the main ‘Python’ guys. Graham Chapman is the lead as Brian, a guy born on the same day as Jesus Christ. After falling in love with a hot rebel chick named Judith Iscariot, Brian joins the Peoples’ Front of Judea and eventually gets himself into trouble when people mistake his on-the-spot ramblings for religious prophesying…what ensues does not end well for poor Brian.

A lot of this movie is made up of really cutting satire against religion, mostly attacking the collective hive-mind worship mentality of religious followers at times and the willingness to suspend logic in the face of something supposedly divine. Exemplifying the movie’s wayward distancing from the orthodox religious norm is, again, the fact that it starts off at Jesus’ sermon at the rock, only to pay as little attention to Jesus himself as possible. It focuses more on the idiots at the back bickering about whose nose is big and whose isn’t. That’s pretty damn funny, and even moreso if it ruffled some religious feathers here and there upon its release.

The whole core of the film’s comedy is brought to the forefront when Brian finally gets mistaken for a prophet after escaping capture. He tries to blend in with the various street prophets by standing up and shouting random nonsense…except people start to believe his nonsense and take it so seriously that he becomes hailed as a real prophet. A gourd that he hands to a guy beside him becomes hailed as a sacred object, as does a sandal that he drops – illustrating the silliness behind deification of objects. It’s all very biting satire. Like another scene where he talks to his GIGANTIC league of followers and gets them all to repeat “We are individuals” as a giant chorus – like that’s not hypocritical.

It’s practically diabolical with how ridiculous and over the top it is. It’s funny and witty as hell, all the time. Being Monty Python, you’ll occasionally get a really out-there gag like the part where Brian gets flown into outer space by two aliens with eyeballs not attached to their heads, before being returned to Earth like nothing ever happened. But also with that, you get some jokes that just don’t work. I didn’t really find the continuous gag with Pilate’s lisping and “Biggus Dickus” so much funny as just irritating as hell. And the same for that retarded gag about the merchant trying to haggle with Brian – sometimes, a joke goes on too long and just…loses every trace of its original humor. But these jokes never even had that, so I guess that’s a bit of a moot point for them, isn’t it?

So it’s a bit hit-or-miss. When it’s funny, it’s hilarious, but there are some things that just…irk me. The only other Monty Python I’ve seen is Holy Grail, and this one is significantly not as good as that one was. Life of Brian has its moments, and it’s very much worth seeing if you like comedy, but it’s not quiiiiiite as good as I expected…but still, go watch it. I'd watch it again, and that's all that counts.