In recent years, the form of the documentary film is one that is being skewered spun on its ear and completely redefined. In "A Liar's Autobiography" we get the untrue story of Monty Python's resident wild man Graham Chapman (now best known as the dead one) in a completely animated gonzo retelling of his supposed life, as it was even written and narrated by Chapman himself from beyond the grave.
It's not a documentary, not a Monty Python film, "A Liar's Autobiography" is Graham Chapman's own take on his bizarre life and his search for self-knowledge. Incredible, yes. Surreal, certainly. True? Who knows? At his memorial service, John Cleese called Chapman 'a freeloading bastard'. Now, as this film re-unites Chapman with Cleese, Jones, Palin, and Gilliam for the first time in 23 years, he is set to earn a new title – the most prolific corpse since Elvis as we track his life from his birth, he went to Cambridge and met John Cleese, he smoked a pipe, he became a doctor, he became a Python, he decided he was gay (well, 70/30, according to a survey he did on himself), he got drunk a lot, he stopped being drunk, he made some films, he had some sex (actually, a lot), and moved to Los Angeles. Finally, he was whisked up into space by aliens (although that might have been in a film).
Calling it a documentary film just might be a disservice to the art form, however "A Liar's Autobiography" is a fairly interesting patch work of the high's and low's of the man's life, less of a life story and more of the rambling's of an eccentric drunk. For everything that is frustrating and maddening we get inspired moments of hilarity. The animation while eye popping feels a little sterile, attempting to match Gilliam's early style of work and not quite succeeding. It's still fun, but a little hollow and even canned at times, as the recordings that Chapman did in the years before his death provide for the narration, while other cast members come back to add to the proceedings and you can feel a little bit of a separation. Instead of a tale of his life, this film feels very much like a lost Monty Python episode from their original run. The directors all did a fine job crafting it and putting what was arguably an un-filmable book and putting it on the big screen, but it was lacking in spite of being enjoyable. Truly, the fascinating moments of the film were those that incorporated archival footage taking a look back at what a 'naughty boy' he truly was and we could have used a little more real life in this animated tale.
Special features on the DVD include some behind the scenes snippets of the making of the film, and a very interesting "Anatomy of a Liar" featurette detailing the motivation behind making the film.
When all is said and done, "A Liar's Autobiography" may actually be a fitting cinematic tribute to the man that was Graham Chapman. Much like the man, this film had some dull moments and some that were truly inspired lunacy and much like the man it enjoys itself, never giving the audience a reason to be bored, for better or for worse.
3 out of 5 stars.