- Posted by Carl Lyon
- On March 18, 2016
- 0 Comments
I’m 34 years old, which means that I grew up at the height of Pee-Wee Herman’s popularity. A gray-suited man-child, Paul Reubens crafted the character as an ageless pixie trapped in a perpetual state of awkward youth, a Peter Pan in white loafers who first captured hearts with Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, a Tim Burton-directed bizarro road trip about a boy trying to reunite with his one true love: his bike.
That was followed up by a one-two punch of television and sequel: the Emmy Award-winning Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and the whimsical Big Top Pee-Wee. Then scandal struck, Reubens hung up his iconic red bowtie for over two decades, and the rest of the world grew up.
But then, producer Judd Apatow teamed up with Reubens and Netflix to produce a new Pee-Wee Herman adventure called Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday, and suddenly the years melted away from Reubens, his ever-youthful character, and even his young fans that grew up.
In Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday, we reunite with Pee-Wee in the timeless town of Fairville, a humble hamlet that seems trapped in the 1950’s. Pee-Wee is content in his life without responsibility or growth, working behind the grill of Dan’s Diner when a series of circumstances leave him questioning his life in Fairville. The final nail in the coffin of his contentment is Joe Manganiello (True Blood) playing himself, who finds a soulmate in Pee-Wee and their shared love of root beer barrels and other candy. Manganiello invites Pee-Wee to his birthday party in New York City, forcing Pee-Wee to try and discover life outside of Fairville.
This leads to an eastbound road trip, with Pee-Wee getting into all of the ridiculous situations you could ever hope for. He has a run-in with a trio of busty bank robbers pulled straight out of a Russ Meyer film (including Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat), escapes an arranged marriage to a flock of farmer’s daughters, and teaches the Amish the joys of balloon music. It’s just as whimsical and delightful as one could ever hope for, with the tone of the film falling somewhere between the more sinister Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and the gentler Big Top Pee-Wee.
The best part is just how genuine the whole movie is. It’s not simply riding along on the slipstream of nostalgia; it’s a wonderful, charming family film without any cynicism or mean spirits, but plenty of that inimitable Pee-Wee whimsy and innocence. Reubens still has the childlike chops at the age of 63, and he’s just as enchanting and infectious as ever. That childlike wonder is delightfully projected onto Joe Manganiello, whose act as Pee-Wee’s beefy counterpart is a treat, giving the Magic Mike actor an immature side that leaves you with a stupid grin on your face the entire time. The onscreen bromance is a joy, especially during Pee-Wee’s surreal dreams of him and Manganiello engaging in slow-motion, Spanish-spoken celebration.
Director John Lee (Wonder Showzen) does a fantastic job of capturing Pee-Wee’s innocent take on the weird side of America. Everything is dressed in bright colors and roadside attractions, in impossible gadgets and pre-1980s cars. It’s an America as timeless and charming as Pee-Wee himself. The screenplay, by Reubens and Paul Rust (I Love You, Beth Cooper) is an endless supply of charm and chuckles with a welcome lack of recycled gags, and the music by DEVO frontman Mark Mothersbaugh calls back just enough to Danny Elfman’s Big Adventure score for thematic familiarity while delivering enough boyish bounce of its own.
Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday is a charming parallel to our own lives. Much like Reubens, we all have a few more wrinkles and a few more years under our belts, but we can still tap into our inner child with the right push. For Reubens and us, that push is Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday.