A little over 30 years ago, way back in 1985, an odd film called Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was released. It brought upon the world the character of Pee-wee Herman, who would quickly became a household name in the years following, and also kickstarted the career of a relatively unknown director at the time named Tim Burton (yes, that Tim Burton).
Although the film did fairly well upon release, it ultimately became a cult classic, loved by kids and adults alike for many years to come. It’s a movie that I remember watching over and over as a child, and is still is one of my all-time favorite films. So, obviously, I was thrilled about Pee-wee’s big screen return — his first film since 1988 — in the Netflix-exclusive, Judd Apatow produced Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.
The premise of the film is simple: the ever eccentric Pee-wee Herman decides to take a road trip up to New York and finally leave his simple hometown of Fairville after meeting the coolest guy ever, real-life actor Joe Manganiello (who is in disbelief when Pee-wee doesn’t recognize him and even cites his role from True Blood). Joe invites Pee-wee to come to his birthday party in New York, and although he’s reluctant to the idea at first, Pee-wee decides to take the trip in order to see his new friend.
Big Holiday plays out less like a singular movie and more as a bunch of smaller sketches that are loosely tied together, all starring Pee-wee Herman. I say that because the film moves from location to location and cycles in new side characters so rapidly that it doesn’t even feel like it’s all from the same movie. For the most part, the only through line of the film is Pee-wee himself, and his desire to get to New York.
Along the way, Pee-wee stumbles upon a cast full of interesting characters. There’s Pepper, Freckles and Bella, a trio of bank-robbing women who hijack Pee-wee’s car. When he happens upon a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, Pee-wee meets Farmer Brown and his nine daughters, whom all fall in love with him, making for one of my favorite bits of the film.
I can’t forget to mention the Amish community Pee-wee finds himself in at one point, which includes an absolutely wonderful scene between Pee-wee and a balloon. It’s here that we truly get to see Reubens’ uniquely delightful craft. In an extended scene that is painstakingly long, the joke goes from being quite funny at first, to not so funny anymore, back to being perhaps even funnier than it was at the start. It’s hard to imagine any other comedic actor today being able to commit to a scene like this as well as Reubens does here.
There are other characters and locations as well, but there’s really not much more to the movie than what I’ve described here. Seriously, go read the Wikipedia synopsis for this film. It’s only three short paragraphs long. For most films, this could be seen as a flaw — the lack of a real storyline — but it frankly doesn’t matter here. We turn on Big Holiday for Pee-wee, and we hope for a joyous adventure that will make us laugh a lot. Thankfully, Big Holiday delivers in both areas.
While Pee-wee has always been a fantastic character, he would be nothing were it not for the wonderful performance of Paul Reubens. Reubens, who has been doing the character since 1977, is as convincing and dedicated as ever in Big Holiday. Pee-wee’s main shtick has always been that he’s a kid stuck in an adult’s body, and this is especially funny here, as Paul Reubens reaches into his mid-60s but still manages to exhibit the enthusiasm and wonder of a child. Sure, he has somewhat lost his signature voice, and that’s too bad, but his performance in Big Holiday is amusing to no end.
Co-writers Paul Reubens and Paul Rust (star and co-creator of another Netflix property, Love) have written a tremendously funny script that never ceases to produce laughs throughout. And while I will say that I laughed harder and more consistently at the jokes and bits in the first half of the film, Big Holiday nevertheless had plastered a smile on my face that didn’t go away until the credits began to roll.
It’s hard to not compare this new Pee-wee outing to his first Big Adventure, and while it isn’t anywhere near as memorable, weird, or bombastic as that film is, Big Holiday is a small-scale, upbeat, funny reboot that does the beloved character justice in an era where reboots seem to be getting lazier and less impressive every day.
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor