Python obsessives—there’s no other kind of fan—remember the late Graham Chapman with a special fondness. He was the stuffy colonel who would chastise skits for their excessive silliness, as well as the hapless near-Christ in Life of Brian. Chapman’s delicate sense of humor, almost wholly visual, is scarce in this scattershot animated biography based on the comedian’s perversely embellished memoirs. In sequences that sometimes encroach upon Terry Gilliam’s paper cutups, A Liar’s Autobiography flits between boyhood backseat frustrations, exploratory years at Cambridge and Chapman’s increasingly manic lifestyle as a sexually voracious (and proudly out) bon vivant.
This means we’re treated to fantasies of the subject riding a pink penis roller coaster or chatting with Who drummer Keith Moon in phone-connected Hollywood limos. The cartoon weirdness is an attraction in itself; this might have been the format and tone Chapman himself would have preferred. (Seeing other Python members like John Cleese and Terry Jones rendered as shit-hurling monkeys feels apt.) But the film offers no clarity on Chapman’s life, cut short by throat cancer yet marked by a disciplined rigor in the writers’ room. Even in his own voice (recorded before his 1989 death), the tale feels foggy. A coda shifts to video footage of Cleese’s irreverent eulogy; you wish the whole film could have been as slyly somber. It’s what the colonel would have insisted upon.
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