Film #16 on the 100 Movies Bucket List: Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Life of Brian (1979) is an old school comedy classic, and alongside Python’s take on the Holy Grail, were fairly revered comedies when I was growing up and I doubt there are many people over a certain age that haven’t seen these films. Films like this are my favourite type of comedy, and I just wish they still made similar films today.
Life of Brian follows Brian (Graham Chapman), who was born on the same night one stable down from Jesus, yet has lived an entirely different life. Fed up of the Romans, Brian joins the People’s Front of Judea led by Reggie (John a Cleese), whose aim is to get the Romans out of Judea. After being caught infiltrating the palace and put in front of Pontius Pilate (Michael Palin), Brian escapes capture and in his bid to hide from the Romans, winds up relaying some of the teachings he learnt from Jesus. This spurs a crowd into thinking he is the next Messiah, leaving Brian to try and evade his followers as well as the Romans, with rather dire consequences.
This is the Pythons second proper feature film, following on from the hugely successful Holy Grail and their tv series, Flying Circus. Directed by Terry Jones, the purpose of Life of Brian was to lampoon and satirise the New Testament, and more specifically, to make fun of followers of mistaken religious figures. To be quite honest, I don’t think they could make comedy films like this anymore. This lampoon, satire style was fairly rife even up until the 90s (with the likes of Hot Shots and The Naked Gun sequels), but I think they’d struggle to make anything like this nowadays which is a great shame. The humour in this isn’t offensive at all, it’s intelligent and adult and whipsmart and wonderfully done. Admittedly there are a few scenes that may cause some offence purely because it was made when times were different over 40 years ago, but there’s also a lot in here that is surprisingly relevant even in today’s society – one scene where the People’s Front of Judea discuss women’s rights and a request from Stan to be known as Loretta is unexpectedly well done and respectful, albeit with a Python comedy edge. There are some genius works of comedy in this film too that have become cult favourites, from Palin’s depiction of Pontius Pilate with a speech impediment (“Stwike him centuwion, vewy wuffly!”) to Terry Jones’ mother crying out to Brian’s followers that “he’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!”. Personally, Palin’s take on Pilate and all of his scenes are my favourite of the entire film.
This isn’t to say that Life of Brian is perfect. There are some scenes and acting that are maybe a little too pantomime-esque (even for a parody) and there are some jokes and scenes that don’t quite land – the alien scene (yes I did say “alien”) is one that jumps to mind. Because of this, some scenes can seem rather drawn out if you don’t get the gag. Humour like this isn’t for everyone, although for me it’s my favourite kind. This is British comedy at its best and a shining example that humour doesn’t be crude to be funny. I mean who else other than the Monty Python troupe could pull off crucified men singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”?
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