9. Pee-wee’s Big Holiday. John Lee. USA.
Chalk it up to a mixture of low expectations and blissful nostalgia, but I was smitten with Pee-wee’s Big Holiday. With few exceptions, I’m seldom impressed when it comes to Netflix’s original content, so hearing the streaming giant would be producing a new Pee-wee Herman movie, twenty-eight years after Big Top Pee-wee, didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. But in his first feature, television director John Lee (Broad City, Wonder Showzen) captures the incandescent spirit of the original Pee-wee movie (really, the only one that matters), Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, in a way Tim Burton never could these days, as Pee-wee embarks on another wild quest and meets an array of eccentric individuals (including a Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!-inspired trio of buxom outlaws) on his way to New York City.
Narrative inconsistencies aside (if Pee-wee has never left his hometown, how did he visit The Alamo on his Big Adventure? Also, how does the playhouse and its lively set of characters even factor into the films?), Paul Reubens and Lee do an excellent job avoiding some of the expected annoyances with bringing a beloved character back to the screen. Other than Magic Mike’s Joe Manganiello, who plays an exuberant version of himself and serves as a kind of romantic lead for Pee-wee, the celebrity cameos are graciously kept to a minimum, and its self-referential moments are pretty scarce. In one scene, Diane Salinger, playing a different character here, utters her Big Adventure character Simone’s famous last words, “Au revoir, Pee-wee,” as she exits his Big Holiday.
Reubens and Lee also never feel the desire to update Pee-wee into our century, and that decision alone is refreshing. Over Thanksgiving, I caught about five groan-inducing minutes of The Gilmore Girls incessantly babbling about Uber and developing apps in their Netflix-produced return and had to run screaming. In a lot of ways, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is the sort of weird, imaginative, cheeky, hysterical movie I would have watched on repeat as a child (not unlike Pee-wee’s Big Adventure). Since I really have no interest in sampling whatever TV shows or movies kids these days are into, I can only hope there’s something as delightfully peculiar as this for all the weird kids growing up today.
Pee-wee’s Big Holiday premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March and became available streaming through Netflix in the U.S. the following day.
With: Paul Reubens, Joe Manganiello, Alia Shawkat, Diane Salinger, Jessica Pohly, Stephanie Beatriz, Leo Fitzpatrick, Patrick Egan, Hal Landon Jr., Brad William Henke, David Arquette, Darryl Stephens, Dionne Gipson, Anthony Alabi, Sonya Eddy, Nicole Sullivan, Robert Broski, Christopher Heyerdahl