(As a lead-up to Monty Python’s final concert performance on July 20, each day prior to that, I will post a review of a Monty Python movie. Today, it’s the Judean People’s Front [me] versus The People’s Front of Judea [Monty Python].)
As a die-hard Python fan, Monty Python’s Life of Brian is my least favorite of their movies (and that includes the sketch movie that the Pythons themselves maligned, And Now for Something Completely Different). The movie probably satisfies viewers who want a solid story instead of Python sketches, but it still feels as though there’s something missing. And, as with Charlie Chaplin’s black comedy Monsieur Verdoux, the movie’s fans seem to be celebrating what the movie is intending to do (make a big statement), rather than the actual movie.
The movie follows a Jerusalem resident named Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman), from his birth to his very lyrical death. Brian, it seems, is cursed from the start. On the night of his birth, his mother Mandy (Terry Jones with terrible dental work) is visited by the Three Wise Men of Biblical fame. Turns out they went to the wrong house. Jesus, the Savior they were looking for, resides right next door to Brian.
The movie caused an uproar among conservative religious groups when first released, but in every way possible, Brian is the least offensive of the Python movies — and that’s not necessarily a compliment. Anyone who devotes any attention to the movie can clearly see that it’s not Jesus who’s being made fun of–it’s the crazed followers who are all too willing to give up their individuality in order to be seen following the “right” savior.
What is most bothersome about the movie is, the Pythons are so eager to ram their message home that they forget about the comedy. Much of the supposed humor is based on speech impediments, or repetition of gags that are thin the first time around. It’s as if the movie was written by second-rate Python imitators.
The movie is also annoying in that it tries to make radical statements and then blithely shrugs them off when they’re not convenient to the plot. At one point, Brian makes an impassioned speech to his mother about how he’s a fervent Jew. Then later, when Brian is trying to avoid harassment by the Romans, he nonchalantly announces, “I’m not Jewish, I’m a Roman.” This is the underdog whom we’re supposed to admire?
And (SPOILER PARAGRAPH) considering how hard the Pythons wanted to make their point about rabid followers, it seems strange that as soon as Brian is sentenced to crucifixion, the same people who hang on every word he says suddenly disappear from the plot.
That’s not to say that the movie is completely worthless. There are some choice moments of wordplay and sight gags. (The movie’s Star Wars reference is a typical Python non-sequitor that gets you laughing for no good reason.) And the famous closing number is sublimely done.
Yet the Criteron Collection DVD of Brian offers some deleted scenes that are funnier than some of the stuff that was left in. I can’t help feeling that if the Pythons had gone for a more freewheeling style a la Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the movie might have been less political but far funnier.