[Review] - What We Did On Our Holiday

Courtesy of BBC Films.

Sometimes, you need a palette cleanser. Something that has no pretension, no grand motive, but only wants to be the best of it's singular intent. Sometimes, you needs to have a laugh and a cry. What We Did On Our Holiday is a palette cleanser of the highest order. It demands nothing more from the audience than their presence, and the audience demands nothing from the film than simple joyessness.

The film is a delight from front to back, and that is all. It isn't teaching us a lesson (though maybe it tries, but is better when it isn't). It is perhaps one of the most bizarrely realistic depictions of modern family life, while also being incredibly absurd. It feels entirely true, and is frustratingly honest, and manages to switch between an adult perspective and a child's in a moment, without suffering any whiplash. It is a remarkable film, really, because of all the things it doesn't aspire to, and is just content to exist.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that protect us from the bad stones. Just like in real life.

From writers/directors Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, and using the same basic format as their long running sitcom Outnumbered, Holiday takes a very Christopher guest approach to it's structure. The film is essentially split between adults (David Tennant, Rosamund Pike, Ben Miller) and kids (Emilia Jones, Bobby Smalldridge, Harriet Turnbull), with grandpa Billy Connolly in between. The film takes two entirely different approaches to each of these perspectives. The adult material is clearly scripted, heavily so in some places to the point where things get a bit bogged down and burdensome. However, there are some very real and very poignant emotional moments within this sphere of the film. The children are where the real joy of the experience rests. Using a slightly more improvised methods, the children were given leads, and allowed to go their own way, with the adults keeping them loosely on target. The result is a a turn-style film, alternating between dramatic creation and documentary, all in the framework of fiction.

The children really are a hoot, with special and appropriate mention going to Harriet Turnbull. When the children are on screen, and given the lead in the scene, the film takes on a transcendent kind of glee. Watching David Tennant's desperation or Rosamund Pike's patience or Ben Miller's fluster is all the more satisfying and engrossing because of the three charmers pushing them out of their bounds of comfort. There is a jazz like rhythm that you simply don't get from meticulously scripted child performances. Hamilton and Jenkins get their worth out of the kids by allowing them to be kids, to the exasperation of all else.

The line is blurred slightly by Jones, playing the eldest and already an actress in her own right. She gets to play heavily in the dramatic adult bits, and carries the emotional arc as essentially the protagonist. There isn't a clearly delineated structure to the film, as all characters are responsive to circumstance rather than directing action themselves. Which is entirely the point. The film is meant to mimic reality as closely as possible, and any time anyone tries to force real life to meet their expectations, real life pushes back.

Billy Connelly is, as always, an utter joy. He takes obvious delight in playing the eldest child of the bunch, and his performance really pops when up against the youngsters. It is the most cliched of grandfather roles: dispensing aged wisdom and coy jokes, while having a laugh and being the fun one in the room. Responsibility takes a back seat because grandpa wants to have a laugh. But Connelly uses that to his advantage, and finds the little moments to dig into the heart of the cliche: adults are miserable bastards some times, and kids are only kids once. Might as well help them stay that way as long as possible.

The film's third act is an issue, as it steps a bit closer to fantasy than anything. Hilariously, the media uproar that locks the family into the home is entirely believable, especially in the UK. But the film swerves a hard right to happy ending territory which feels disingenuous. Of course, the reason they do so is because the natural progression of the material would lead to a bleak, depressing ending. Which might be true to life, but makes for a bitter pill after such a lovely supper. Still, I wish for a happy middle, as the film ends in such a counter intuitive way that is lends the film an odd after taste. I'd have rather they continued to explore very real issues in a very real manner, such as the fantastic way they use the first act to explore the complexity of divorce when kids are involved. Tennant and Pike's performance as people who aren't entirely certain if they like one another anymore, but clearly love their kids is extremely honest.

What holds the film together is the comedy, which never wanes, just cycles through a repertoire. There are sight gags, physical comedy, intellectual jokes and good old fashioned awkward misunderstandings. Perhaps the thing that makes the film feel so fresh and joyful is that there isn't a single thing mean spirited about it. At no point does it demean anyone, belittle anyone, or speak harshly. Even when covering subjects as bleak and dark as divorce, depression, cancer, death, and human greed, it remains light and positive. It is an optimistic film to the highest degree, and dammit that is a rarity in modern cinema. And I think we need more of it.

That, and six year olds driving hatchbacks down major motorways. Probably the best joke of the film, that.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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