When I first saw this popular comedy six years ago, I basically hated it for all the jokes that were mostly just rambling on without a clear punchline. I didn’t see anything masterful about its humor, it was essentially the same energy as a bunch of drunk guys filming something they wrote up merely minutes before. The only part that made me genuinely laugh was the bridge scene. While now, there are some parts that can get a good laugh out of me, nothing in Monty Python and the Holy Grail will have me all-out dying of hysterical laughter like that bridge scene. So yeah, sorry, this is nowhere near as clever as everyone says.
In a nutshell, here’s how the humor of this non-comedy goes down: A main obstacle pops up during a scene, one of the characters says something out of line, another comments on a minor detail within that statement, the other defends the way he said his comment, and the nonsense just continually goes back and forth, often past a minute, until you forget what the scene was originally about. Now imagine that, but ninety-one minutes long. The problem with the dialogue is more in the lack of conflict within however little story there is, any characters thrown in really contribute nothing to the plot, particularly Patsey, the one known for his coconuts. Any time the jokes aren’t dependent on actors talking, they’re somehow even more pointless in their reason for being there, particularly the opening credits. I would even go as far as say that the humor in this feature is the type you would find in an Adam Sandler comedy, and yes, it’s equally as unfunny for the greater percentage of the time.
Although to be fair, the production crew at times took advantage of their small budget, such as the iconic coconut halves that were used because they couldn’t afford to use real horses. The mimicked sound of the clopping does prove to be an appropriate, funny way to set the tone for the movie, and the cheap aesthetic is further embraced by the uses of animation. The awful animation of God in the clouds and the multi-eyed beast end up being ironically funny for how stupid they look, which in turn leads to the beast being defeated by the funniest deus ex machina you’ll ever see: the one time that cheap screenwriting trick actually works! The crude animation style further carries into these segments that match the style of those old renaissance paintings, but with them doing wildly inappropriate things you’d never expect from classy art, yet shouldn’t surprise you to see at the same time.
Yet those are only brief instances when the low budget was able to ignite creativity, the rest of the time though, the cheapness really shows. Much of the dialogue is pretty inaudible due to the sound quality, which doesn’t matter much anyway, as it’s not like anything these “actors” say deserves to be heard. Even more noticeable than the audio is the picture; many scenes are set outdoors, which means the production crew had to work meticulously against nature, and you really sense a lack of control over the environments. A lot of times, the fog turns the image too hazy, and shadows from branches and trees don’t light the actors’ faces in a flattering way. Even worse, the actors much of the time are backlit; I could only imagine how impossible it would have been to make out their faces when watching this on a VHS tape.
But even if they had a limitless budget to create the most flattering imagery you’ve ever seen; it could never have helped improve the almost nonexistent screenplay. Seriously, it all feels put together last minute, with the whole structure written around a bunch of substories that are only put in to do more of that unfunny rambling, with no climax in mind. This random structure of having a bunch of smaller stories inside one big story could have been a potential advantage, but it’s instead a drawback here, as each story tries to focus on a different knight, but never bothers to give any of them a big moment, which in turn means none of them stand out in their own subplots. It would have worked if any of these “characters” had motivations to their actions—for instance, why does Arthur want to go to Camelot? What’s his backstory that motivates him?
What hurts these characterizations even further is the actors who overplay every last syllable they speak, like they’re beating a dead horse well past recognizability. Yeah, it’s a parody film and all, but a parody can still contain actors who are making some effort, take for instance any film by the greatest parody director of all time: Quentin Tarantino. His films specialize in the complex merging of genres that play hatred and violence for laughs, while spoofing history and tributing old styles of filmmaking, and he somehow does it all with precision. You can’t make that same argument here, which likes to spoof history just for the heck of it, and does it in the laziest way possible. (Believe me, you know a movie is lazy when it makes one of the antagonistic forces a French guard talking in a grossly exaggerated accent.)
What the entire Monty Python franchise should have done all along was focus more on physical gags that turn a farfetched-sounding truth into random goofiness, such as the scene when cows fall from the sky. Bits like that are genuinely funny because they poke fun at Europe’s ridiculously weird history. But instead, the Flying Circus decided to rely more on boring verbal humor.
Compared to other comedy films out there, several of my personal favorites include Elf, A Christmas Story, and Mrs. Doubtfire; I know for a fact those are all way funnier in execution of their verbal and nonverbal gags, as well as how they comment on the absurd truths of how we live. With all that said, it’s honestly pretty hard to see why so many consider Monty Python and the Holy Grail to be the most hilarious comedy of all time.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!