The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
An HBO movie. Biopics are hard. Hollywood used to make them with little regard for actual facts. The subject was usually portrayed as a pure hero, all warts forgotten. He would usually rise in his chosen field, meet a crisis, and then recover at the end. Consider Night and Day or Words and Music, which never mentioned that Cole Porter and Lorenz Hart were gay. By the time Hollywood did Cole Porter again, in De-Lovely, the form had evolved into self-examination, something pretty much started in the semi-autobiographical All That Jazz.
This is one of those. What is hard about the pics is that they have to skim over so very, very much. You only get carefully chosen highlights (and lowlights), and it can all feel like Cliffs Notes.
I had heard that Sellers was a self-centered SOB, and he certainly is here. He himself said that he had no personality. I don’t have any idea how much of it is true, though I always take these things with a lot of skepticism.
But it is well-done, visually, and as an acting extravaganza. It is not absolutely necessary that the actor resemble the subject … but it doesn’t hurt. With Jamie Foxx in Ray, Kevin Spacey in Beyond the Sea, you feel like you’re seeing the actual person. This is very much true here, and since Peter Sellers was a man of 1000 faces, Geoffrey Rush gets to channel many, many familiar parts. He does a wonderful job of it. It’s fun, but not much more than that.