The Meaning of Life (1983)


They say "analyzing a joke is like dissecting a frog. No one is that interested, and the frog dies." Luckily, as we embark on an examination of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, I can say two things up front: There will be no dissecting and the frog is already dead.

Most people are probably familiar with the "gluttony-sketch" from this movie. It's the one where a grotesquely obese man sits down in a restaurant, projectile vomits all over the place and then eats until he bursts. The sketch perfectly encapsulates the problems with the film as a whole: Most scene have one joke. It's crude. There's no cleverness or thought provoking satire behind the madness. And it's overlong.


The original Monty Python TV-series (henceforth called The Show) was a rambling string of barely connected sketches that barely made any sense. Barely. And it is the best TV-series ever created. When Monty Python moved to movies, they became a lot more focused, even though the sketch format to a large extend still defined their work. The Holy Grail (1975) and Life of Brian (1979) both stayed more or less within their designated themes, and they both worked exquisitely.

It's ironic then that despite going back to the nonsense that defined them The Meaning of Life fails both at being focused and rambling. It's something altogether more mundane. Python mundane, but mundane nonetheless.

A big intro song with Terry Gilliam animation promises that the film will discuss the meaning of life. Most sketches do relate in some way to life, but then again that could be said for almost anything in life - that it relates to life, I mean. So, would renaming it "random sketches about life" fix this film? Nope. The problems run deeper.


The film opens with The Crimson Permanent Assurance. A 16 minute isolated short, clearly the brainchild of Terry Gilliam. Gilliam often created his own worlds within the Python universe, so it makes sense that he should be allowed to do that here as well.

The short looks absolutely gorgeous. It's cleverly shot, with fantastic production design and impressive (for the time and budget) model work. Unfortunately this is a rather dishonest start. It has virtually nothing to do with the film, except for a brief return of the pirates in the main feature, and yet it suffers from the same problems as the rest of the project: It's one joke. It's too long. And it doesn't say much.

Then the feature presentation begins.

We open with two sketches about "the miracle of birth". First a clumsy doctor sketch, which quickly turns out to be a fairly toothless indictment of the medical system, with doctors being more concerned about financing than helping patients. That's it. Again, there's only one layer here, and it's a fairly predictable one too.

Then we move to Yorkshire for a sketch about a family with about a hundred kids. Cue jokes about Catholics not using condoms, which explodes into an admittedly impressive song and dance number. While the sight of little kids singing "Every Sperm Is Sacred" is delightfully disturbing and destined to produce a chuckle or two, once again, the sketch is too damn long, and it's one joke, with one layer. I could go through the whole film and repeat myself endlessly, because I'm afraid the trend outlined by the first chapter of the film continues.

The Meaning of Life is just not zany enough. It's too obvious. It almost pains me to say so, because when the hell was Monty Python ever predictable? Even when the setup is completely obvious and the punchline is a sitting duck (or sheep), the boys still found ways to surprise. One thing is certain: You could rarely, if ever, see the end of a sketch coming. That's not the case in this film.

Even more disturbingly, The Meaning of Life is nowhere near as clever or as searing as The Show. The Pythons take aim at all the familiar targets - religion, the education system, and the sexual frustrations of the middle and upper class - but they appear to have nothing to say. The result is often crude or just over the top, in an unfunny way. Like the "Live organ donation"-sketch - which is way too bloody and gruesome. Taken out of context some of the moments in that sketch would not read as jokes. And what's with making so many stupid characters American? Since when did Python pick so low-hanging fruit?

Despite the slow pace and the general lack of jokes, a few sequences surprise by being completely joke free. Like the restaurant sketch, where a couple struggles trying to find a conversation subject, or the completely useless "Death visits"-bit near the end. Many of these sequences seem to exists in lieu of Terry Gilliam animated bits, which would normally provide the transition from one sketch to the next, and give us something funny and nonsensical to look at along the way. In The Show these transitions enhanced the sketch format by allowing us to skip the boring bits, jump straight into the good bits, and get out before the joke gets dull, or before we get to the punchline. That last one is particularly useful if there isn't any.

When a sketch was abandoned in The Show it never felt like a cop out. In The Meaning of Life many jokes simply peter out, and it feels almost as if the Pythons lose interest along the way.

Despite this rather harsh critique of the film The Meaning of Life is not completely without familiar Python antics. Like the fact that the film is introduced by some talking fish in an aquarium at a restaurant, waiting to die, like their friend on a plate nearby. Or the break in the middle of the film called "the middle of the film", discussing the fact that we've reached the middle of the film. There's the grotesque sight of a teacher demonstrating the act of intercourse in front of a room full of kids, and a war sketch, where a group of soldiers desperately try to celebrate the birthday of their commanding officer before the final raid, which is as close to the old magic as the film gets.

Sadly these few scattered moments of funny, only serve to put the shortcomings of the rest of the endeavor into sharp focus.


I find myself in a peculiar situation: I love Monty Python and everything they do, but I can't stand The Meaning of Life. It's just not funny to me. I almost wish it didn't exist.

The Meaning of Life is a sad swan song for the Pythons. When Graham Chapman died in 1989 - the inconsiderate bastard! - he single-handedly ruined the chance of a proper reunion, but that's okay, he was always the weak link and who likes bloody gays anyway? (<---joke) But that's beside the point. We'll always have the old shows, we'll always have the other films. And every time there's a partial reunion of the troupe we're reminded of the wonder that is Monty Python. And that is all we need.


She Shoulda Been A Contender, Part III


It's been a few years since I wrote the previous segments of this blog-series, focusing on hot actresses who should have had bigger careers, so I figured it was time to pick it up again. And even though there's a depressing element to this, we're still dealing with hot babes, and that's always fun!

So, remember to check out Part I and Part II, and without further delay, we're on to the next batch:


Claire Forlani

There's a certain classy look to Claire Forlani. She projects an air of royal entitlement, and it amazes me she hasn't parleyed that into a career. She came up through the ranks via Kevin Smith's Mallrats (1995) - instantly giving her geek cred, but then she landed Meet Joe Black (1998) and suddenly she was too good for the rest of us.

Regrettably, Meet Joe Black turned out to be a dud. A dreadfully dull, overblown, brick of a movie, and despite the fact that Forlani was perfectly cast in it, it never made her leading lady material.

I suspect that the truth is simply that she really IS a bitch to work with, and that her superior attitude is not just an act. She walked off Deep Rising (1998) due to "creative differences" and she publicly trashed Mallrats. She was lined up to be a regular on CSI: NY (2004-2013), but that didn't last either. It adds up, doesn't it?

High point: The Rock (1996).
Low point: The Medallion (2003).
Should have been in: Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), or other post-90's Angelina Jolie action vehicles.

Jennifer Grey

With movies like Red Dawn (1984), The Cotton Club (1984) and Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), Grey was already pretty well-established as a star on the rising, and then came Dirty Dancing (1987). Few actors ever get to experience a career defining moment like that - unfortunately Grey didn't do much with hers. First there was an awful car crash (Wiki it to know more), and a few years later Grey had a rhinoplasty that rendered her virtually unrecognizable to fans, friends, family, and more importantly, casting agents. And just like that her career and her awfully cute face was gone.

Grey managed to keep working, sort of, but she never did anything anybody heard of again. In 2010 she won the 11th season of Dancing with the Stars, but still didn't manage to turn the tide. Too bad. I wouldn't have minded seeing Baby grown into a seasoned actress in the spotlight.

High point: Dirty Dancing.
Low point: The nose.
Should have been in: The Breakfast Club (1985), more John Hughes movies, Pretty Woman (1990) - no, the other female role - and about a million other things.

Minnie Driver

The second part of the 90's were very good to Minnie Driver. A hilarious bit part in GoldenEye (1995), a heartfelt indie performance in Big Night (1996), she did a big budget classic Sleepers (1996), impossibly cool indie darling Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), modern Oscar movie Good Will Hunting (1997), and loud big budget Hollywood trash Hard Rain (1998).

Driver was set to be a star. She could do it all, but she ended up doing nothing. Oh, she worked, she even delivered the goods now and then, but she had no hits, no Minnie Driver vehicles, nothing that anyone would want to remember, and isn't she almost forgotten by now? She's still beautiful, she's still talented, but she's 43 now, and I know it's terribly unfair, but time is running out. If she wants to get back on the marquee, she need to get into gear now.

High point: Grosse Point Blank.
Low point: My guess, sight unseen, delivering the voice for the animated series Revisioned: Tomb Raider (2007).
Should have been in: Speed (1994). Or something funny, something quirky. I like her best when she's a little nuts.

Candy Clark

It takes quite a woman to make a believable ex-wife/wife for Rob Scheider, especially at the peak of his leading man manliness in Blue Thunder (1983) - tanned like his life depended on it and with a million dollar experimental machine between his legs - but Clark did it! Of course she got her big break 10 years earlier in American Graffiti (1973), where she also seemed like she could handle more than the average girl could, but between those two movies, she wasn't up to much. She wasn't up to much after 1983 either, to be honest.

Every time I watch Blue Thunder I keep thinking, why didn't she do a kick ass adventure movie? Something where she plays a resourceful reporter, or possibly a role that lets her drive a tank. Then I saw her in Radioland Murders (1994), and I finally had to admit to myself that it wasn't going to happen. She looked like an old woman.

And just in case you weren't convinced that it's all over, here's a line from her Wikipedia profile: "She attended many hot rod shows, and enjoys gardening, collecting antiques, and trading memorabilia on eBay"....

High point: American Graffiti.
Low point: Radioland Murders.
Should have been in: Give it a thought before you object, but what about her, doing an alternate take on the Marion character from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)?

Lacey Chabert

As little Claudia Salinger on Party of Five (1994-2000) Lacey Chabert was not only adorable, she was actually a good actress, and she consistently delivered heartbreaking moments week and week. Along the way she managed to squeeze in a promising turn in the barely watchable Lost in Space (1998), and she seemed like she would definitely be able to transition to the big screen at some point.

Then she grew up. She REALLY grew up. She didn't just become a SMOKING HOT BABELICIOUS woman, she became distractingly beautiful. So much so that she lost her acting street cred. Now she's languishing in instantly forgettable direct-to-video productions and lots of cheap TV movies. And I had such high hopes for you, kiddo.

Still, it's not over yet. She really needs to do a down and dirty Oscar role - like Charlize Theron did with Monster (2003). Doesn't look like she's going in that direction, but boy, I wish she did.

High point: Part of Five (or Lost in Space. But you said it was barely watchable! Did I? yes, it says so above! Oh well, maybe I should watch it again to be sure? Noooo!)
Low point: That movie on cable last night, something about a woman in peril, because something from her past did something, and then.... I fell asleep.
Should have been in: Dirty Dancing! No wait, she was 5.... Well, a Dirty Dancing remake then! Made in the year 2000, and set in the Latino community, she could pass for Spanish, right? And then instead of dirty dancing, which I assume all Spanish kids are dancing anyway, the story would focus on classy ballroom dancing! yes! This is an awesome idea, somebody write this down!

Molly Ringwald

One of the truly great mysteries of the universe, is how Molly Ringwald never became a movie star. Or maybe not. Looking through her IMDb bio - and I don't know how many of these are true - the number of iconic projects she rejected or was rejected for is mind-boggling. Laura Dern's part in Blue Velvet (1986), Lea Thompson's role in Some Kind of Wonderful (1987), Vicki Vale in Tim Burton's Batman (1989), Demi Moore's part in Ghost (1990), and Julia Roberts' part in Pretty Woman (1990). Well of course you can't get a bloody film career going by NOT doing these films.

Ringwald started her career with three of the best teen movies ever made - Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), and Pretty in Pink (1986) - but then she made a career defining mistake by turing down Some Kind of Wonderful (1987). John Hughes didn't want to have anything to do with her after that, but even so, others should have picked up on her obvious talents. They didn't. She kept working, but no one ever wrote her a script that was even remotely as good as the Hughes stuff.

High point: Sixteen Candles.
Low point: Getting very naked in Malicious (1995). How does playing an innocent whore in Pretty Woman sound now?
Should have been in: Some Kind of Wonderful. Or Scream (1996).



Unfortunately Hollywood is all too eager to provide a never ending stream of failed careers for our amusement or eternal bitterness.

The silver lining is that these days, with a blossoming independent industry and countless TV-channels producing quality entertainment, there are more opportunities than ever before for a career resurgence.

It's never truly over until it's truly over.