Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday stars Paul Reubens as the eponymous character, and is directed by John Lee. The musical score is composed by Mark Mothersbaugh.
In the 80s, Paul Reubens became one of the most legendary entertainers in the world with his Pee-Wee Herman character, a juvenile and eccentric man-child who quickly became a favorite with young and old alike. The 1985 film Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (directed by a then-unknown Tim Burton) and the television series Pee-Wee’s Playhouse catapulted Reubens and his character into superstardom, though the Pee-Wee character largely disappeared from the public eye following Reubens’ arrest for indecent exposure in 1991. Audiences were likely wondering if they would ever see the Pee-Wee character again. Fans would get their wish in 2016 in the form of a direct to Netflix movie.
Pee-Wee Herman is content living his life in a small town, enjoying playing with his band, reading books from the library, and working in a restaurant. But when actor Joe Manganiello (as himself) stops off in town, Pee-Wee learns of life beyond the borders of his hometown and the potential for adventure. When Manganiello invites Pee-Wee to New York for his birthday party, our favorite man-child sets out on the road, on the adventure of a lifetime. And along the way, he will encounter no shortage of strange characters and unusual situations.
As a long-time fan of the Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure film from 1985 and the subsequent Pee-Wee’s Playhouse TV series, both of which were staples of my childhood, I was very eager to see what Reubens would be up to, reprising the character in a direct to Netflix feature film. Revisiting an old character/series is never easy; poor results can alienate fans and tarnish a series. How does Paul Reubens’ attempt to revisit Pee-Wee Herman go?
The film is hit and miss, but has its moments.
The Pee-Wee character has always been a favorite of young and old because he lives in something a parallel universe, far out of touch with reality, with eccentric characters and odd situations. Seeing his interactions and how these events play out is half the fun; Reubens has always been a comedic genius in this regard. The way he gets himself out of many of the predicaments in this film do earn more than a few laughs. Naturally, Reubens overacts and everything is over the top, but that is what Pee-Wee has always been about!
Sadly, there are just about as many problems with the film as there are good points. Joe Manganiello playing himself in the movie is bizarre enough unto itself, but the nature of the relationship between him and Pee-Wee is, in the simplest word possible, creepy. It feels like these two, even after just meeting, are borderline obsessed with one another; Pee-Wee sees Manganiello in his dreams quite often throughout the movie. It is supposed to feel humorous and funny, but ends up having quite the opposite effect. This element of the plot wears out its welcome very quickly, and the fact that it dominates the entire film does not help things any.
The film plays out from scene to scene with the kinds of situations and humor one would only find in Pee-Wee’s world. These respective scenes are hit and miss. When they work, you will be laughing. When they do not, you will be looking at the time clock to see how much longer the movie will go for.
Another weakness is that the film feels like a half-assed attempt to repeat the “road trip” dynamic of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, albeit with mixed results. This moviegoer cannot stand when movies just feel like they are “retreads” of their predecessor, and sadly, Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday ends up feeling that way. There are a few minor references to older productions to feature the Pee-Wee character that fans will appreciate, though.
If you are bored and have 90 minutes to kill, Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday is worth watching at least once, but do not expect this one to derail Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure as Paul Reubens’ master work. In the end, the film comes moderately recommended, but keep your expectations in check.