Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Chocolate Milkshakes and Flying Cars, or Thoughts on Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday

There’s a quiet subversive quality that I enjoy about Pee-Wee Herman, he pulls you in with his nervous laugh and tired jokes and then offers you some red-hot gum or a stink bomb.  But it’s all in good fun and the audience can’t helped but to be charmed by the surreal, unexplained man-child in the grey glen plaid suit and iconic red bow tie.  It takes a certain type of comic genius to blow up a balloon onscreen and make it funny, and only a certain type of audience will appreciate it, but if you’re new to Pee-Wee’s world understand that you’ll only have fun if you give in.  He’s like a kiddie ride at a carnival, you can sit there with your arms folded and complain that you’re too serious and grown-up and intellectual to be amused or you can listen to the kids laughing around you and give in to your inner-child.
Maybe the future will be OK if we live in a world where Pee-Wee Herman can return in his third film, Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday (2016), almost 30 years after his last one, Big Top Pee-Wee (1988).  Paul Reubens is 62 and don’t get me wrong, he looks great, but it’s still a little scary to see the actor cruising down the street on a skateboard, and not in a good way.
Again, there are no references to his previous movies; each film exists independently as a Pee-Wee Herman reboot, and yet there are certain themes that are always present.  He lives in a mid-century town where everybody’s friendly and the most advanced piece of tech is a solar powered calculator the size of a business card.  The visual gags are so old and tired they circle around and become funny again, at least for the duration of the movie.  And the audience is always treated to a montage of Rube Goldberg cause and effect gadgets that serve to amuse Pee-Wee almost as much as the viewers.  I always think his bedtime routine consists of setting those things up for the next day.
Joe Manganiello stars as himself, a cool guy who rides into town on his motorcycle and shakes things up.  He bonds with Pee-Wee over chocolate milkshakes and they become instant best friends.  He’s another man-child, a more handsome and socially acceptable version of Pee-Wee, but with the exact same sensibilities and on a similar emotional level.  There’s a hero-worship aspect when Pee-Wee dreams of their friendship, it’s not quite homoerotic and more innocent, but certainly could be interpreted that way if you wish.  These are two grown men riding giant unicorn piñatas, after all.
Girls are a strange and confusing distraction for Pee-Wee, who finds more joy in his vintage toy collection, but that doesn’t stop him from running into a gang of lady bank robbers straight out of a Russ Meyer movie and a cameo from Diane Salinger, aka Simone from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985), playing a society lady with a fancy flying car.
Although I am sentimental and happy to see him again, we have to compare this film to the gold standard, Tim Burton’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985).  In Big Adventure Pee-Wee has a quest, to find his stolen bike.  He has a heroic journey and a nemesis in Francis Buxton.  Along the way he meets regular people in the real world and wins them over, much like Paul Reubens did with his TV show. 
Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday was produced by Judd Apatow, but the film really needed the sensibilities of Seth MacFarlane.  There’s no journey in Big Holiday, apart from his road trip to New York, and no heroic quest, other than attending Joe Manganiello’s birthday party.  He’s going on vacation, and on this road trip finds other quirky weirdos, as if they’re called to him; a gag joke salesman, the aforementioned 50-s pin-up girl gang and lady with the flying car, and a variation on the classic farmer’s daughter routine.  There’s a big musical number in Manhattan doesn’t compare to the simple joys of dancing to Tequila in a biker bar and becoming an honorary full-patch member.

But sometimes you can go home again, and Pee-Wee will be there to serve you chocolate milkshakes and talking pancake smiley faces.  Just watch out for the inevitable whoopee cushion.


my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.