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Overall Rating

Awesome: 5.71%
Worth A Look: 34.29%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 2.86%

4 reviews, 11 user ratings

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Life and Death of Peter Sellers, The
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by Stephen Groenewegen

"You had to Be There"
3 stars

Peter Sellers had a domineering mother and a dodgy heart. A comic genius in performance, he was insecure and irrational off screen. You don’t learn much more than that from the biopic The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. To the credit of director Stephen Hopkins and star Geoffrey Rush, you’ll still have a good time.

The film begins with Sellers’ radio stardom as one of the madcap Goons in the 1950s. It isn’t long before his archetypal showbiz mother, Peg (Miriam Margolyes), is pushing him into the movies. His skill as a mimic and impersonator lands Sellers his first part and soon he is starring opposite Sophia Loren (Sonia Aquino). Pressured by fame and unable to reconcile his plain looks with his newfound celebrity status, Sellers throws himself at young attractive women and abandons his wife (Emily Watson) and kids. His supporting role in Blake Edwards’ The Pink Panther makes him a Hollywood star but doesn’t bring him peace of mind or happiness.

The thesis of Hopkins and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is that Sellers had no character when he wasn’t in character. At best, this inspires the surreal device of Rush as Sellers commenting on important figures from his life while made up to look like them. After long-suffering Anne Sellers (Watson) storms out, Rush – in Emily Watson’s costume and make-up – offers us Sellers’ delusional take on what we’ve just witnessed.

At worst, the filmmakers’ approach means their Sellers is largely a blank. The tritest of biographical clichés, like the corrupting influence of Hollywood or an indulgent parent, are supposed to explain his behaviour. The screenplay is a string of disconnected moments and events without a strong unifying theme. Nor is there much of a triumphant finish to Sellers’ life to anticipate. He spent years trying to get Being There (1979) made. Although it was a critical success, it did not measure up to the unambiguously successful comeback of standard Hollywood biography.

Rush is amazingly versatile in the lead role, and makes Sellers a suitably rubbery and elusive figure. His playing is almost enough to hold the film together. A lot of effort went into recreating key moments from Sellers' films, and Rush seems most at home during these moments. A cast of famous faces playing other famous faces surround him: John Lithgow as Blake Edwards, Stanley Tucci as Stanley Kubrick, Charlize Theron as Britt Ekland. Only Theron has sufficient time to establish a supporting character with more than surface depth.

Hopkins’ tone is jaunty and showbiz-lively, and the design teams have enormous fun recreating swinging 60s London and rockin’ 70s Hollywood. He uses pop songs and film references adroitly to mark the passing of the years, and there are parodies of scenes from seminal films of the period like Blow-Up and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

A biopic needs more than marvellous set dressing to justify its existence. Remove the glittery shell of The Life and Death of Peter Sellers and you’re left with – nothing. That’s a fair enough conclusion to draw about a biographical subject like Peter Sellers, but not about a biographical film.

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originally posted: 06/14/04 18:21:43
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/23/09 art DEPRESSING! 1 stars
2/16/07 Vip Ebriega If you thought his films were funny, wait 'till you see Peter Sellers' life behind camera. 4 stars
2/22/06 tatum Well done, and a little uncomfortable; Rush is perfection 4 stars
10/05/05 Jesse Taylor If you don't know Seller's career, you may get bored easily. 4 stars
2/07/05 Steve Michaud Rush is outstanding, but the film lacks any real depth or insight into Sellers the man 3 stars
9/21/04 Kate Condon Brilliant 5 stars
9/16/04 lou top film 5 stars
9/11/04 alien assassin One of Geoffrey Rush's best performances. Pity we didn't see more of Clouseau !!! 4 stars
9/08/04 Huge Harold Rush's performance simply stunning. Will revisit some of Sellers' films 4 stars
8/28/04 john bale More Rush than Peter Sellers, better if they had some original film clips. 3 stars
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  DVD: 10-May-2005



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