Love them or hate them, the surrealist sextet of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin are a comedic institution. It’s easy to see how a modern audience would find their stream-of-consciousness comedy alienating (and yes, perhaps even a little dated), but it’s Monty Python’s absurdist satire that broke down convention and paved the way for the more challenging and inspired comedy we all enjoy today. Unafraid to make enemies or stir up controversy, the Pythons stripped the world of its decadence and subsidised it with a nihilistic whimsy and songs about dicks.
Monty Python Live (Mostly) captures the final performance of the five surviving members in their sell-out reunion show in July. In their first time on stage together in 50 years, Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Jones and Palin run through a celebratory gauntlet of all their most beloved sketches and songs with clips from ‘Flying Circus’ and of the late Graham Chapman breaking up the performances.
Those unfamiliar with the Python’s signature gags should look elsewhere, this is a loving retrospective presented with bombastic dance routines and enough nostalgia to drown even the most rabid of fans. Whether it’s dead parrots or sacred sperm, all the classics are here for you to recite word for word in your best John Cleese inflection.
Though they milk each sequence for all it’s worth, the show still rolls along with frenetic vigour. The aforementioned stream-of-consciousness fluidity of their comedy is utilised to keep one scene flowing organically into the next. The momentum is only thrown off by the painfully long break during the intermission where the film shows us a countdown timer that periodically makes big jumps forward. Given that they could have just cut this out for the theatrical release it’s a bizarre choice that I can only hope is some joke that went over my head.
The bigger problem is that the five pythons are, sadly, not quite as quick and energetic as they used to be. The performances are extremely loose, which sometimes comes off as charming, and other times as half-assed. There are moments when they will remind each other of their lines and joke about mid skit, and others where they’ll go off on a tangent and skip ahead with the knowledge everyone already knows the ins and outs. It all does manage to put you into the moment and make you feel like your joking right along with them, but there’s one too many times where it’s at the expense of the scene and feels like they really just couldn’t be bothered.
But, even if the average performances are a little distracting, they are absolutely invaluable in making the cinema audiences feel like they are a part of something and not just watching a collection of skits. It’s not an easy thing to translate the magic of a live show to a recording, but these little imperfections make you feel like you’re all in it together, celebrating their wit rather than just seeing it on display. Some celebrity cameos are also thrown in, which helps make this feel a little less like a mediocre complication tape. I won’t spoil who they are, but I will say that, with one exception, they feel very self-congratulatory and add little to the show. The one that does work though is utterly inspired and reminds us of the depth of philosophy their comedy sometimes reaches.
In reality, it’s probably not the best example of their comedic prestige, but it is a wonderful celebration of it. There aren’t really any surprises, and I would never recommend this to someone who wasn’t already a fan, but for those who love the pythons and all their infamous sketches, this is a wonderful goodbye that will have you humming their songs all week. Monty Python Live (Mostly) is a highly enjoyable, if unsurprising, last hurrah for an irreplaceable pillar of comedy history.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10