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Celebrating Pee-Wee's Big Holiday'

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Netflix offering proves fun, surprisingly heartfelt

There have been plenty of ill-conceived sequels in recent years. Whether they're too close together or too far apart, these movies rarely manage any kind of worthwhile payoff for audiences.

However, every once in a while, a project comes along that seems borderline absurd on its surface, yet turns out to be a welcome and wonderful surprise.

'Pee-Wee's Big Holiday' is just such a surprise. This Netflix original serves as a sort of spiritual sequel to Tim Burton's 1985 cult classic 'Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.' Once again, we're carried along on a weird and quirky hero's journey alongside Paul Reubens's titular man-boy as he leaves the comforts of home behind to find himself out in the wider world.

Pee-Wee Herman lives in the quaint town of Fairville. He's very much an oddity, but all of his neighbors accept and love him for who he is. He works as the short-order cook in the local diner; he's fascinated by the literary adventures of Scuba Cop and plays the flutophone in a band. Pretty typical, really it's an idyllic existence.

But everything is upended when a mysterious stranger arrives in town. Joe Manganiello (playing himself) appears and is immediately fascinated by the sweet innocence of Pee-Wee. Joe is so impressed, in fact, that he invites Pee-Wee to his birthday party, set to take place in New York City in five days.

What follows is a cross-country journey packed with wacky encounters and ridiculous misadventures. He winds up running afoul of a trio of tough-talking female bank robbers. He spends some time with a traveling salesman and some touring hair stylists. He lands in Amish country and the deep woods; he even becomes part of a classic farmer's daughter joke made manifest.

Yeah it's that kind of movie.

As he makes his way to Joe Manganiello's penthouse soiree, Pee-Wee finally gets the opportunity to learn more about the world. It's a journey of self-discovery well, as much self-discovery as Pee-Wee Herman can manage, anyway.

I'll be the first to admit that I have a longstanding affection for Pee-Wee Herman. I loved his HBO special and his Saturday morning show and the Burton movie (the less said about 'Big Top Pee-Wee,' the better). So I'm clearly just the nostalgic audience that 'Pee-Wee's Big Holiday' is intended for.

What's surprising, however, is how fresh the entire thing felt. It's obviously powered by affectionate memory the narrative constructed by Reubens and Paul Rust shares a lot structurally with Burton's film but the celebratory attitude toward weirdness has aged nicely.

Of course, the film's success or failure is primarily going to land at the white-shod feet of Pee-Wee Herman. Despite the fact that Reubens is 63(!), he still captures the childlike essence of the character with ease. He's eminently watchable throughout; there's no doubting the sheer joy he feels in revisiting this beloved character. There's a lovability there that not even 30 years could diminish.

As far as the supporting cast, it's pretty spot-on. For instance, Alia Shawkat ('Me Him Her'), Stephanie Beatriz (TV's 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine') and Jessica Pohly (in her feature debut) have some fun as the three bank robbers. But honestly, the non-Herman star here is absolutely Joe Manganiello, playing a version of himself that we can only desperately hope is close to who he is in reality. He embraces the silliness completely, resisting the urge to wink and nudge his way through his scenes. He plays it straight and it is magnificent.

The delight that this film takes in the cheesy jokes and over-the-top bits is palpable; seriously, there's a scene involving a balloon that is the epitome of the 'funny, then not funny, then even funnier' style of humor. Classic kid punchlines and so-stupid-they're-great sight gags are thick on the ground. Director John Lee was clearly on the same page with his star, resulting in a brisk 90 minutes of surprisingly high-quality entertainment.

To be clear, 'Pee-Wee's Big Holiday' won't be for everybody. However, those like me with fond memories of Pee-Wee Herman can rest assured that nothing about this movie will sully those memories. Quite the contrary it's a great chance to revisit a beloved character that's handled with humor and a surprising amount of style.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 23 March 2016 14:39

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