And now for something almost completely useless. Essentially an illustrated audiobook, the 3-D animated A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story Of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman adapts the cheeky memoirs of the late writer-actor, using a variety of artists and styles to relate the story of his boyhood, his years at Cambridge, his homosexuality, his alcoholism, and—of course—his involvement with the groundbreaking British comedy troupe Monty Python. Chapman led a colorful life, coming up through the traditional, patrician path to UK showbiz stardom, then helping revolutionize it, turning “silly smart-ass” into a profession that rivaled “rock star.” But what’s missing from this movie is any of that sense of what made Chapman so important, or why he was so often at the center of Monty Python’s best skits and movies, up until his death from cancer at 48.
Some of the animation in A Liar’s Autobiography is unusual enough to merit a nod of admiration, though the majority of the segments look crude and garish. And while a few of Chapman’s anecdotes are funny and touching—especially the stories about him coming out to his friends and family, and him trying to survive as a barely functional addict—the film’s structure is odd, jumping around in Chapman’s life in a way that makes the chronology and the significance of any given incident hard to understand. This is a biopic that spends long stretches on Hollywood parties and seaside holidays, and almost no time on the making of some of the most cherished TV and movie comedies of all time. True, the movie is just following the book, by and large, but the heavy emphasis on triviality makes A Liar’s Autobiography feel directionless.
Worse, many of the sequences are just dire, coming off as bad Python sketches (and as Python fans well know, there’s nothing so painful as a poor imitation of a Monty Python routine), marred even further by an off-putting air of pretension. The biggest problem with A Liar’s Autobiography is that it doesn’t seem to have been properly conceived as a movie. Adding cartoons to tapes of Chapman reading his book isn’t inherently cinematic, no matter how striking the art occasionally is. Chapman’s caustic wit and sweetly self-pitying air are much-missed, but when it comes to his autobiography, his fans are advised to stick to the prose, and skip the pictures.