The big news in TV this weekend was the return of Pee-Wee Herman in “Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday”. The film was made exclusively for Netflix, with Judd Apatow producing and a score by Mark Mothersbaugh. Fans will be thrilled with the detailed sets and visual gags that are a signature of Pee-Wee Herman’s productions. The plot revolves around Pee-Wee taking a cross-country trip, just as he did in “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”. However, the basic premise of this film, that Pee-Wee has never traveled, contradicts the other films. You just have to pretend that you never saw his other movies.
The film takes place in Fairville, not in Puppetland, where the Pee-Wee Herman Show was set. Consequently, none of the familiar characters like Chairy or Miss Yvonne show up, which was also true of the previous Pee-Wee Herman films. You do get a whole host of new wacky characters, including a cartoonish version of Russ Meyer bad girls. Since we are firmly in Pee-Wee’s world, everyone is incredibly friendly, as well as eccentric. Even the bad girls have a soft spot for Pee-Wee.
Most of the jokes are intentionally stupid, and some of them are so stupid they are ingenious. You may roll your eyes or guffaw at different gags than I did, but regardless of what you find funny, you can’t help laughing. There are a few times though, when Pee-Wee Herman’s basic gag falters. It is easy to accept a stunted manchild in his 20s or 30s, but Paul Reubens/Pee-Wee Herman is in his mid-60s now. A scene where Pee-Wee lets the air out of a balloon to make annoying noises falls flat because it relies on his silly facial expressions. The lighting or make-up is a little off, and it is kind of creepy to see a wrinkled old man making such childish faces. This may be his last chance to play Pee-Wee Herman onscreen before it gets too weird for everyone.
Another strange thing about the film is the intensity of Pee-Wee’s friendship with the hunky Joe Manganiello, who plays himself. At some point it starts to feel a little homoerotic. But then, isn’t that how kids’ friendships really are? They are able to be openly affectionate and attached to each other before society’s mores draw a line. It comes back to what I think Pee-Wee’s real message is: wouldn’t we all be a little better off if we could still see the world through the eyes of a little kid?