First, let me get out of the way all the words that would make me worry about overuse throughout this review: Smart, excellent, first-rate, astute, intelligent, remarkable, exceptional, unusual, offbeat, unconventional, quirky, outlandish, entertaining, zany, diverting, sparkling, hilarious, uproarious, continuous screams of laughter, amusing, hysterical, riotous, silly, farcical, ingenious, deft, ebullient, fun-loving, shrewd, perceptive.
Thank you, The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, 2004 edition. That’ll do.
Holy Flying Circus is not only the most cutting, dead-on satire I’ve seen in years, but it’s also the funniest movie I’ve seen since…geez, has it really been that long? The main plot centers on Michael Palin (Charles Edwards, one of many actors who play the Monty Python troupe so perfectly that they should consider doing more movies like this together), worried about the vicious reception toward The Life of Brian in Britain, to the extent of protests that want to see the movie banned because it makes fun of religion. To those protestors, including a trio of apparently pious believers, one of whom has Tourette syndrome, it doesn’t matter that they haven’t seen the movie, just that Jesus was made fun of and that doesn’t stand. What to do about it? Why, make fun of the now-utterly ridiculous hatred toward the movie!
Writer Tony Roche and director Owen Harris are so clearly fans of Monty Python, as well as the entire cast, from the main title sequence with the revolving animation, to Michael Palin’s wife being played Rufus Jones, credited as “Jones the Wife,” who also plays Terry Jones. But underneath the surface of what makes Python great, there’s two sequences that stand out above all others: One is Palin at his door, refusing to sign a petitioner’s petition to ban Life of Brian from being shown, and the petitioner wants to know why. There’s the well-worn complaint today that people don’t talk with you, they talk at you. Here it is, so brilliantly dissected and even disturbingly accurate, showing exactly what goes on today and how nothing gets done. There’s no connection, no reach for understanding. Only attempted one-upmanship.
The other sequence is Stephen Fry as God, squabbling with Jesus (Ben Crispin), as a father and son will often do. It goes two ways, first in pointing out their obvious humanity, and secondly, the movie testing the waters today, wondering how those who see this will react to that, not to mention the beginning with Jesus referring to the Bible as fiction, and farting in the face of a shepherd played by Steve Punt, who also does a dead-on Eric Idle.
I’m still on the fence about the batty head of BBC talk shows, Alan Dick (Jason Thorpe), who unsettles the staff of the chat show Friday Night, Saturday Morning, seeming to not know how to do anything right in the department, conjuring up way-out ideas, and basically being a poster child for sexual harassment and lawsuits, if 1979 was the time for that to happen. At first, I think Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) on The Office might have gotten along well with Alan, but no. I think even Scott has certain standards he wouldn’t abandon. Now, David Brent (Ricky Gervais) on the original The Office! He and Alan would be like brothers separated at birth, or that they had always known each other and been the best of friends.
Holy Flying Circus is the Airplane! of satire, pinpointing so well the silliness of it all, throwing out jokes as fast as Airplane! did, and the ones that don’t stick are still somewhat funny, which are very few. You end up watching this take on the Monty Python troupe in awe, how closely they mimic their voices. I have the Blu-ray/DVD edition in front of me, and I still think that somehow, Eric Idle found a procedure that lets him temporarily revert to his younger self in order to play him. That’s how incredible Steve Punt is at this, how much he obviously studied Idle, and the same goes for Darren Boyd as John Cleese, Thomas Fisher as Graham Chapman with his ever-present pipe, and Phil Nichol as Terry Gilliam. Charles Edwards also has the same effect on me as Punt does. And listening to Boyd, you might think that Cleese himself performed his own voice in post-production, but amazingly, no. That’s all Boyd. I’m still amazed.
You’re going to laugh throughout Holy Flying Circus. There’s no debate about that, not through the satires of the protestors, or the occasional slapstick, or the throw-away jokes, or those lines that make you think, “They got it right! That’s exactly what those horrible people are like!” How often you laugh depends entirely on your feelings about this subject matter, but even so, there will be something that gets you going, at risk of never stopping, including yet another dead-on satire (no surprise there) of dream sequences in movies, and quite possibly the most outlandish fantasy sequence you’ll ever see. Is this review a satire of all those other reviews that say “this is the most……you’ll ever see?” I’m not that good. I’m merely a worshipper of what I had apparently been waiting so long to see in a comedy, to actually laugh throughout and not just sit through a comedy waiting and waiting for the laughs to come. Too many comedies these days that say they’re comedies try too hard to be comedies and then produce nothing you can turn blue at from laughing so hard. Holy Flying Circus delivers on that and throws in a lot extra because you’ve been so nice just to see what this lightning-strike group has come up with and made work.
In this Blu-ray/DVD set from Acorn Media, there are three deleted scenes, one of which is an alternate opening; 19 minutes of outtakes, some of which are as funny as the actual movie; “The Making of the Holy Flying Circus Phonotrope,” which shows the construction of the revolving animation that you see at the beginning (the detail that goes into it is awe-inspiring); and 30 production stills, including four stills of Stephen Fry as God during production, which makes up for having to wait for him until nearly the end.
The first time you watch Holy Flying Circus is to experience what has been created by this thoroughly talented, frighteningly intelligent group, and to laugh at jokes you never expected to see. The second time is to laugh at those jokes you loved the first time and to catch what you might have missed when the paramedics showed up to help you breathe again. The third time is to laugh all the way through without stopping, no matter the tense debate between Palin, Cleese, journalist and formerly-good satirist Malcolm Muggeridge, and a bishop. The fourth time is to rewind and rewatch your favorite parts, though I suspect you’ve been doing that already. The 35th time is….wait a minute. You’ve been watching this for an entire month? Twice a week? More?! Well, that’s a little obsessive, don’t you think?