Monty Python's The Meaning of Life Reviews
Now when I say the movie goes back to their old routine of surreal sketches, they do...but the sketches aren't exactly the same as their old work. Oh no, in this movie the individual sketches are actually much longer and are almost micro movies within the movie, they have their own beginning, middle and end...almost. Of course the quality of these sketches is much greater, they are much more elaborate, more in depth and like I said, actually have mini plots, none of them are just throw away quickies. Being a big-ish movie things have to appear much smoother and slicker than their TV days (or since their first sketch movie 'And Now for Something Completely Different'), and it is. Like their previous two excellent historical comedies proved, the combined skills and talents of the troupe, gelled with a solid budget, and you have gold.
From start to finish the film consists of reasonable sized skits, mostly original, although some ring a few bells, and some with pretty impressive musical song and dance numbers. Surprisingly there is little to no twisted animation from Gilliam, it kinda feels like there was supposed to be but they decided to turn them into live action sequences instead (my thoughts). Some of the smaller sketches certainly seem like they could of been animated, it felt very odd seeing a Python movie that didn't have their unique classic animations, a Python sketch movie that is. Its also quite stunning that the song and dance sequences are so good, you'd never expect it. The first big number we see is set in Yorkshire and has a distinct [i]Oliver Twist[/i] vibe to it in terms of visuals, choreography and the music, not to mention the actual size of the whole thing. That's not even the only dance number, there's another big one towards the finale, and another classic Eric Idle song in the middle too.
The movie is actually chopped up into chapters, chapters based on our progression through life, birth, middle age and death being obvious. Naturally there are some more silly chapters snuck in which are clearly there just for a stupid laugh, live organ transplants? Each of these chapters tends to have one main little sketch/story that runs for its short length, but there are the odd brief quickfire moments in between which are purely independent from the main little story. For example, with birth the main story is about a Yorkshireman (Palin) and his wife (Jones) who can't stop having kids because their faith won't allow him to use a condom. So he decides to sell all his kids (he and his wife have about 50 kids) for scientific experiments. Middle age is mainly based around an innocent yet dumb American couple (Palin and Idle) on vacation, they go to a fancy restaurant and order a conversation (not food) from the waiter (Cleese). Death, as you might have guessed, is all about a group of stuffy British people having a bit of a do (with yet more Americans on holiday I might add), when Death turns up and takes them all to the afterlife. In between these chapters are a few sub-chapters that deal with things like growing up, war etc...
Now these little sketches were always a mixed bag for me, some hit and some miss. The film initially starts off with a mock movie complete with its own credits, 'The Crimson Permanent Insurance'. Now this short introduction is a gem, absolutely brilliant and very dark. Its all about a group of elderly office clerks working for a major accounting firm, they are treated like slaves by the younger fitter suits. When one of them gets fired they revolt, kill all the young suits and then...errmmm...set sail as if the whole building was some kind of old galleon. They all dress like pirates using office equipment, run the building as if it were a ship and 'sail' to big cities and bring down their major finance corporations by attacking their skyscrapers, or 'boarding' them, and killing all the young suits within. It sounds completely insane, and it is, what do you expect from Monty Python. Thing is, its so well filmed, it looks great visually...effects wise, its imaginative and I believe could be an actual full length movie in its own right (think 'Pirates of the Caribbean'...with OAP's, and good). The same can't be said for all of the content of course, some is just weak and not particularly funny (the middle aged American couple) whilst other bits are just disturbing (again...live organ transplants?). But one such highlight that must be mentioned is of course Mr Creosote, the enormous fat bloke who goes into a restaurant and eats so much that he explodes in a shower of innards and bodily fluids.
Its definitely a more adult movie from the Python troupe this time. Previous movies were always cheeky with the quick blink and you'll miss it bit of nudity perhaps, the odd swear word, the odd hint of gore etc...but mostly things were more suggested or simply sexual innuendos which the kids wouldn't understand. In this film there is quite a bit of blood on show, some profanity and a lot of nudity! Hell I remember watching some scenes with my parents and being really embarrassed, all the sexy girls running with their boobs out, or Cleese teaching his class sex education by actually having sex in front of them! Twas so awkward and naughty for the time. Yet seeing this at a young age (dad is a fan) and I do recall not understanding things, not getting the meanings. Watching now as an adult it is very different and opens up the film so much more, being able to understand all the dirty adult stuff, plus all the nudity is now so tame.
Its not quite as good as I remember it to be frank, plus of course its dated pretty badly now. Its generally like all of the Python work, some of it is brilliantly funny, brilliantly written and brilliantly performed, whilst some of it just misses the target badly and would fall on flat ears. I do enjoy the film, it is engaging and it offers some nuggets of comedy gold without a doubt. I just kinda think at times it doesn't feel like a Python movie, it feels too slick, too flashy, you tend to expect the cheapness of the TV series or the earlier movies that just looked cheap. At times it feels like a compilation of clips from other movies, you half expect to see something from 'Time Bandits' pop up. Its a strong movie, I just feel it could of been better, it isn't a patch on the two movies they made before this, one featured a bloke named Arthur, the other a bloke named Brian.
"It took God six days to create the earth, and Monty Python just 90 minutes to screw it all up."
The Meaning of Life is the first Monty Python film I have the pleasure of watching, so I can't put any emphasis on comparing this to any of the others. That may actually be a good thing because I've heard the others are better. Overall, The Meaning of Life is a funny movie from the opening short film through to the feature presentation starting with Part 1- The Miracle of Birth to the last part, Death. Now some parts were great and some were not so great.
There's definitely a weirdly intelligent humor level in all of this despite just how stupid and ridiculous it all is. The wacky imagination of these guys is something of a mystery to me, but come on; it's impossible to not say their geniuses. The humor at work here may be unflattering, at times gross, and at other times just obscene, but there's a level of genius, and not just comedic genius, in it all.
Some of my favorite scenes were the sex-ed class, the whole Miracle of Birth, part one and two, and the Death scenes. The Middle Age part was kind of lazy and the whole Autumn years thing had its moments, but wasn't particularly satisfying.
The Meaning of Life is definitely worth a look. These guys are extremely funny and their jokes in this one work more often then they don't. And of course you get to find out the actual meaning of life at the end. It's pretty profound too, so give it a look.
Part of the problem is that, when the film was made (1983), British comedy was in the grip of the "alternative" revolution, as a new generation of comic writer/performers (Ben Elton, Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson, etc) were beginning their rise to stardom and making the Python brand of humour look hopelessly out-of-date - alternative comedy was essentially comedy's "punk" to the "prog-rock" of Python.
The film opens with a beautifully-shot, but utterly pointless Terry Gilliam creation, "The Crimson Permanent Assurance", which serves little purpose other than to provide a set-up for a gag later in the film. When the film proper begins, though, the familiar Pythonesque humour kicks in, and normal business is resumed, albeit patchily.
The highlights for me are the "Live Organ Transplants" sketch, in which a man has his liver forcibly removed on his own kitchen table, and "Mr Creosote", the grossly fat diner who gorges and vomits his way to an explosive demise, both of which are the type of gross-out gags which have always found a place in British humour - even today, the "League of Gentlemen" team are proudly carrying on this tradition.
Also, some of the songs in the film are among Python's best, particularly "Every Sperm Is Sacred", a wonderfully over-the-top song-and-dance number, and the cheesey "Christmas In Heaven", in which Graham Chapman gives the greatest Tony Bennett impersonation ever committed to celluloid. Unfortunately, much of the remaining material is meandering and tedious, and just serves to pad the thing out to its already over-long 107 minutes.
Python fans will find a lot to amuse them in "The Meaning of Life", but don't expect it to be another "Holy Grail" or "Life of Brian" - it isn't.
The Crimson Permanent Assurance bit is one of the funniest things I've ever seen, and it's a definite highlight. I also really like the bt involving Catholics and birth control, mainly because I can relate and can attest to how spot on the sketch is. "Every Sperm is Sacred" is also one of the funniest songs I've heard as well, again, mainly because it's so spot-on.
There's a lot to like here, even if not all of it is up to par.