Published on March 24th, 2016 | by Craig Silliphant


Pee Wee’s Big Holiday

Pee Wee’s Big Holiday is a bit derivative, but it’s a hilarious return to form for a character that was cut down before his time.

One of the smartest things Pee Wee Herman did was separate himself from his alter ego, Paul Reubens. This had the effect of making Pee Wee a real person in our minds, not just a persona. He never broke character, even in interviews. Sort of like Kermit the Frog; when you see a classic clip of Kermit, you don’t think of it as a puppet with Jim Henson’s hand up his rear end — you see a living, breathing muppet talking (or, I do, anyway). Pee Wee Herman had a great run with his stand up comedy and TV series Pee Wee’s Playhouse before launching onto the big screen with one of my favourite comedies, the weird and hilarious Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

However, things started going down hill towards the end of the 80s; his movie sequel, Big Top Pee Wee, was a mess. And, of course, there was the unfortunate incident in 1991 when Reubens was arrested in an adult movie theatre treating his body like an amusement park. In his book, Media Virus, Douglas Rushkoff wrote a great think piece about how ‘memes’ killed Pee Wee. To give you the Reader’s Digest version, when Reubens’ mug shot was splashed across newscasts around the world, Pee Wee was instantly dead. The spell was broken. He was no longer a man-child in a suit and red bowtie. He was a real guy. A real guy that did weird naked things in public.

Of course, this was pretty unfair; even in the last week, people said things to me like, “Oh, that new Pee Wee movie? I won’t watch it, because he was a pedophile.” He was not a pedophile, and he’s still railroaded for a bad decision he made 25 years ago. In fact, what he did wasn’t so weird in a pre-Internet porn age. And what celebs do now, perpetually caught on TMZ, is usually more strange, sad, or morally bankrupt. People make sex tapes without their partners knowing. They have very public mental breakdowns. They punch out their wives in elevators. And no one blinks. One guy minding his own business in an adult theatre pales in comparison.

It’s great that Netflix has once again been the catalyst for a phoenix rising from the ashes of former glory gone bad, with their new feature length, Pee Wee’s Big Holiday. And as a bonus, where Pee Wee’s Big Adventure was directed by Tim Burton, Big Holiday is helmed by John Lee, who made one of the most batshit insane and amazing shows I’ve ever seen, Wonder Showzen. You can’t really have a more bizarre pedigree than that. And for Pee Wee’s part, well, his make up might be a bit heavier, but it was always slathered on to give him that pink-cheeked boy look anyway, so it doesn’t look out of place. Reubens is 63-years-old, which is quite amazing to consider.

We find Pee Wee living in a little town, afraid to do much of anything, until he meets Joe Manganiello (from True Blood and Magic Mike), who plays himself. Joe invites Pee Wee to his birthday in New York, taking place in a few days, which leads Pee Wee to embark on another big adventure, as he tries to get to NYC in time. (One of the funniest little gags in the movie, and a very Pee Wee moment, is when Pee Wee tries to pronounce Manganiello).

People took note of the fact that Star Wars: The Force Awakens borrowed heavily from the original Star Wars (A New Hope for those who are so inclined to use that term). The same can be said for Big Holiday — it borrows liberally from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, from the anecdotal travel movie format, to gags like the Rube Goldberg machine opening. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — it’s taking Pee Wee back to his cinematic roots (and in fact, that lack of road film movement is part of why Big Top Pee Wee doesn’t work).

The only thing I’d note is that they really flub up the continuity of the character (if that even matters). They make a huge deal of the fact that Pee Wee is stuck in a rut in his one horse town. He’s never gone anywhere or done anything. That’s a little hard to believe considering the insane contents of his famous playhouse, or the entire plot of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. The sad thing is, a line of dialogue would have made this all made sense. “Pee Wee hasn’t done anything SINCE he was in the circus,” or whatever. However, this is a very small thing, and I just chose to let it slide so I could enjoy the movie.

And enjoy it, I did. Aside from, or perhaps because of that feeling of déjà vu, Pee Wee’s Big Holiday brings it all back. Everything from the hilarious mannerisms of this goofy man-child and all the sexual innuendos flying about. Pee Wee was always successful at being a very dirty show, without actually saying anything dirty.

At the centre of the story is a cute bromance between Joe and Pee Wee. I wonder if a different, more engaging actor in Joe’s part would have been funnier? But Joe does a good enough job. Enough to make their relationship the believable heart of the movie.

I watched Pee Wee as a kid, but I also really enjoyed him as an adult, and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is a movie I watch every year or so. Pee Wee’s Big Holiday isn’t quite as classic, for reasons I think I’ve made clear, but it’s a wonderful little movie that had me laughing out loud. And it’s nice to see Pee Wee back in business.

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is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, critic, creative director, editor, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He loves Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.

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