by Joel Smith & r & The Life and Death of Peter Sellers & r & This biopic of the genius comedic actor behind the Pink Panther series and Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove suffers the same fate afflicting every other biopic: It dulls its hero's spirit by trying to show too much in too little time. The film begins with Sellers' early work as part of a British radio program but then rushes too hastily through the beginning of his film work. Within 10 minutes, he's already won a British Academy Award; within 20, he's an international star, with a dangerous crush on co-star Sophia Loren.
The thrust of the film is the strange and disconcerting (though hardly unexpected) juxtaposition between Sellers' unparalleled comedic gift and his confused and immature personal life. But with minimal explication of his background and childhood life, his mercurial outbursts as an adult seem almost rootless and arbitrary.
Still, there are a couple of masterful touches here. First and foremost is Sellers' brilliant portrayal by Geoffrey Rush (Shine, Quills), who not only looks the part but moves and talks and acts like Sellers, too. Rush doing Inspector Clouseau or the president in Strangelove is utterly haunting. He's buoyed, too, by artful acting from Emily Watson and John Lithgow and so-so fakery by Charlize Theron as Sellers' second wife.
Equally impressive are the kind of Dali-esque blurred lines between reality and production. During a stormy marital fight scene, Emily Watson's Ann Sellers is shown passing through the front door. When the film cuts to her outside the door, though, it's no longer Watson playing Ann Sellers but Rush playing Peter Sellers playing his wife, talking to the camera. The new Ann goes into the studio to overdub Ann's arguments during the fight scene you just watched, explaining away Peter's behavior. Later in the film, Rush appears as Sellers' mother, his father, as Stanley Kubrick, etc.
Coupled with the portrayal of Sellers' use of his characters to escape from his personal life, director Stephen Hopkins crafts a compelling image of the actor as a blank, hollow montage of characters, a vision Sellers himself embraced in his penultimate film, Being There.
Despite its pacing, Life and Times is a compelling portrait. Check it out first, but then go back, stop worrying and love the bomb.