SXSW Film Review: ‘Pee-wee’s Big Holiday’

Pee-wee's Big Holiday Review Netflix Paul
Courtesy of Netflix

Watching “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday,” a Netflix movie receiving a limited theatrical release, brought to mind the sensation evoked by Paul Reubens’ stage revival of the character several years ago: An initial rush of nostalgia and enthusiasm, which by the end had given way to silliness fatigue, and the question, “When will this be over?” That’s not a slam of the Pee-wee Herman experience, really, as much as a reminder that some things are best consumed in smaller doses than a 90-minute movie, much like those little root-beer barrels that Reubens’ perpetual child so adores.

Produced by Reubens with Judd Apatow, and co-written by the star with Paul Rust, who’s featured in Apatow’s Netflix series “Love,” “Big Holiday” is hardly a big idea. It is, rather, a collection of little ones, with Pee-wee having a chance encounter with a kindred spirit, played by Joe Manganiello, getting invited to a party and impulsively leaving his little town of Fairville for New York, despite his assertion in the early going, “I don’t want to go anywhere or try anything new.”

The subsequent road trip includes, but isn’t limited to, thieves, a stopover in Amish country, and what amounts to an extended farmer’s daughter joke. And, this being a Pee-wee adventure, there’s no shortage of word play, puns and loud, piercing screams.

The producers have asked that reviewers not disclose certain plot points, which is odd, since the cited “spoilers” are almost wholly irrelevant. (They have also asked that the project be included in feature film coverage as opposed to television, which seems like a virtually meaningless distinction, given the likely consumption of this product, and the distribution pattern – streaming day and date online with its theatrical bow.)

The biggest surprise, frankly, might be that the funniest person here is frequently Manganiello. Indeed, the mere visual juxtaposition of the towering “Magic Mike” star and Reubens in the same frame together is practically a special effect in itself.

That said, unlike in “The Muppets” – which might be the franchise’s closest cousin spiritually speaking – there aren’t really a lot of celebrity cameos. Instead, first-time director John Lee (a veteran of Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer” and “Broad City”) simply bounces from episode to episode, until Pee-wee finally reaches his destination, and the movie, both sweetly and somewhat mercifully, runs out of time.

To his credit, Reubens remains as deft at bringing his man-sized child to life as he ever was, a staggering 35 years after inventing him. But it’s perhaps no accident that one of Pee-wee’s most treasured incarnations – beyond the 1985 movie “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” directed by Tim Burton – might be the more concentrated Saturday-morning TV show that adults and college kids greedily consumed, while their children and younger siblings identified the title character as one of them.

Pee-wee’s grasp of childhood has always been central to his charm. What’s more elusive is discerning a rhyme or reason to Netflix’s nascent movie strategy, which is obviously derived in part from the service’s closely held metrics – in this context, basically making new versions of stuff people already like to watch, like Adam Sandler movies – although how precisely the numbers add up on a project such as this is anybody’s guess.

“Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” is a harmless but not especially vital or necessary addition to that portfolio. As for those who would accuse a critic of being a party pooper for this assessment, the only appropriate response would be: “I know you are, but what am I?”

SXSW Film Review: 'Pee-wee's Big Holiday'

Reviewed at Wilshire screening room, Beverly Hills, March 10, 2016. (In SXSW Film Festival — Headliners.) Running time: 89 MIN.

Production

A Netflix release of a Judd Apatow/Paul Reubens production. Produced by Judd Apatow, Paul Reubens. Executive producers, Josh Church, Richard Vane.

Crew

Directed by John Lee. Screenplay, Paul Reubens, Paul Rust. Camera (color), Tim Orr; editor, Jeff Buchanan; music, Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, Dan Butts; art director, Lindsey Moran; set decorator, Jennifer Lukehart; set designers, Adam Mull, James Truesdale; costume designer, Karen Patch; sound, Agamemnon Andrianos; supervising sound editor, George Anderson; re-recording mixers, Tateum Kohut, Greg Orloff; special effects coordinator, Jonathan Kombrinck; visual effects supervisors, Loeng Wongsavun, Joel Sevilla; visual effects executive producers, Guy Botham, Andrew Fowler; visual effects producer, Eric Kohler; visual effects, Vitality VFX; assistant director, Dan "Laz" Lazarovits; casting, Victoria Thomas.

With

Paul Reubens, Joe Manganiello, Jessica Pohly, Alia Shawkat, Stephanie Beatriz

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  1. DaveC310 says:

    What’s Pee-wee talking about, he’s never been anywhere? What about that big adventure he went on thirty years ago? They should have referenced that movie, Pee-wee could have said he went out into the world once a long time ago and he didn’t want to do it again.

    Seems like they could have come up with a better plot device than Pee-wee going to Joe Manganiello’s party in New York. Why not let us see what Pee-wee is like 30 years after his big adventure… rather than make him seem the exact same. Paul doesn’t look like he’s aged a day, at least not in his Pee-wee make up.

  2. Dr. Close says:

    Pee Ward Herman has become a very successful marketing brand. Like In and Out Burger, Panda Inn, or Vanilla Ice. It’s good to see Peter Paul Rubens doing what he does best. Making Barack Obama happy!

  3. Banana says:

    This film is a sweet righting of a long ago wrong. Who wouldn’t want to have Pee Wee’s playhouse back but we lost it to intolerance. Thank you Netflix.

  4. Bill B. says:

    Uh, no thanks.

  5. Mel says:

    This is a TV movie. Stop catering to the producers’ silly request to include this in “feature film coverage”.

  6. Alan Glaze says:

    C’mon Brian…you know you’d be embarrassed and humiliated by your industry friends if they found out that you actually liked any of Pee Wee Herman’s films. You won’t be invited to their dinner parties anymore…………………………….or you think you won’t……hmmmmmmmmmmmm??

  7. George Valentin says:

    I am a fan of Pee-wee Herman and I hope this movie is a big success.

  8. Paul Brno says:

    I know you are but what am I?

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