Life of Brian (1979)
Directed by: Terry Jones
Premise: A Monty Python film. Brian (Graham Chapman) is born on the same day as Christ and is mistaken for the Messiah. The film sends up key scenes from the Gospels.
What Works: Life of Brian is quite possibly the best of the Monty Python films. The humor mixes goofy dialogue and gags with a sharp wit that is focused through a subversive lens. The film deals with some heavy thematic material including faith, groupthink, and ethnic and religious prejudice, and through it all Life of Brian manages to keep a sense of humor about itself and the subject matter. Life of Brian goes beyond just being provocative or inflammatory; the film has something to say about the way religious and populist movements work and in some cases serve darker purposes, and that intelligence distinguishes Life of Brian from other films. The edgy sense of humor and the way it uses silliness to make sensitive material accessible is echoed in contemporary films and television programs like South Park.
What Doesn’t: Comedy is generally limited in that it does not always translate as well across cultural boundaries and does not tend to age very well. Although Life of Brian is still one of the best comedies of its kind, it is British humor and audiences will need to have a grasp of British comedy to fully appreciate the film.
DVD extras: The Criterion Collection edition of Life of Brian includes a commentary track, deleted scenes, radio ads, and a documentary.
Bottom Line: Life of Brian is a terrific comedy that manages to be very entertaining while also being very subversive. It is also worth viewing as a film that has quite clearly influenced contemporary entertainment.
Episode: #244 (June 28, 2009)