Considering how I never watched Pee-wee Herman as a kid and only knew of Paul Reubens (the creator/actor of Pee-wee) through his rather infamous arrest in the early nineties for indecent exposure at an adult movie theater, I didn’t really know how to approach this movie at first. I initially had very little interest in what at a glance seemed like Netflix doing yet another vanity 80s revival project and with no actual nostalgia to motivate me, there was very little reason to bother trying it out. It was only after hearing other people talking about the movie and being reminded of Reubens’ arrest and the subsequent anti-drug PSA that he had to do as a form of his community service sentence, which he chose to do as Pee-wee Herman amusingly enough, that I ended up making the decision to give this movie a go after all.
Out of all the possible outcomes I certainly wasn’t expecting myself enjoying nearly as much as I ultimately did. Even with my own cynical, weary eyes, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday turned out to be a pretty cute little movie. Nothing revolutionary in terms of comedy, but plenty of fun for the entire family. The humor is a very childlike, one might even call it juvenile, but it’s executed with proper tone and it works considerably well in the context it is presented in. The movie has this cute inherent innocent charm to it, in a nostalgic 1950s era gone sort of way that you can enjoy even as an adult. It’s frankly refreshing to see a comedy that you can see working just as well with kids and as it does with adults without feeling dumbed down in any level. The entire sequence at the beginning of the movie that features Pee-wee waking up in his bed and traveling to work in an increasingly outlandish way showcases this aspect pretty well, it’s wacky and comedy in a way that is accessible to all ages and it’s filled with wonderful childish excitement and quirkiness, featuring numerous little adorable gags that make it really fun to watch no matter what age you are.
If I had to choose one negative thing to say about this movie, it’s that there really isn’t much in terms of actual plot and it feels a bit choppy. By its structure, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is a very typical road movie where the entire point is to do short, amusing little gags in succession during Pee-wee’s journey to New York City, where he is meant to attend the birthday party of Joe Manganiello, whom Pee-wee had just befriended. The type of shenanigans that we see Pee-wee engage in during the movie involve amongst other things, Pee-wee finding himself hitching a ride on car that is also an airplane that then crashes, Pee-wee getting made into a hostage by an all-girl gang of bank robbers that also works as a fascinating homage to Russ Meyer’s classic exploitation film Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and of course, in true comedy tradition, Pee-wee being forced into a shotgun wedding out of the blue. In all of these skits Reubens shows impeccable talent at crafting amusing vignettes with seemingly minimal effort and need for elaborate set up.
It’s not all just pure comedy randomness. There is admittedly a small character arc about growing as a person by learning to break away from your comfort zone and discovering the wonder of visiting new exciting places rather than remaining in stasis and being completely stuck to your old routines. It’s well executed little arc, but for the most part it’s just there as an excuse to get Pee-wee travel across the country and stumble into scenes where he can goof around with quirky characters, it doesn’t offer anything particularly meaningful.
The most endearing feature of the movie by far to me was the oddly homoerotic in tone bromance that is developed between Pee-wee and Joe Manganiello. There’s very little build up to it beyond them just immediately clicking, but somehow it works. Pee-wee and Manganiello have surprisingly good chemistry with one another despite looking like complete opposites, and their friendship feels astonishingly simple, yet strong and deep, not to mention completely believable at the same time. My fondest moment related to their friendship is the scene where it’s the night of Joe’s birthday party, and Pee-wee seems to be a no-show. Instead of mingling with his guests and looking a bit gloomy about the prospect, we get Joe just laying on his bed, looking extremely depressed as he’s watching TV and eating chips while wearing his expensive tux. It is is incredibly simple but funny use of imagery that effectively makes you laugh without really needing to do anything to set up the joke. The scene just sells itself completely with Joe laying on his bed, looking bummed out because his friend who he has only know for maybe twenty minutes isn’t there to help him celebrate his birthday. It’s super adorable and it perfectly encapsulates the type of fun movie Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is.
To sum it up, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday isn’t anything particularly amazing, but it is compelling little comedy that is just perfect for a lazy Sunday morning when you have nothing better to do and you want some light entertainment.