In an apparent nod to Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, Rowan Atkinson has named his new movie Mr. Bean’s Holiday.
Bean There, Done That
Mr. Bean was a BBC TV hit in the 1990s, and it enjoyed much success in the States on PBS. Set in modern times, the humor recalled classic silent comedians such as Tati, Harold Lloyd, and Charlie Chaplin.
My favorite episode involved some impressive grace and skill on the part of the gangly Atkinson — he arrives at a beach in his usual tweed suit, white shirt, and red tie, only to find another sunbather in his spot. There’s no changing booth so Bean, over the course of a good six or seven minutes, squeezes into his trunks and out of his tweed without ever once exposing himself. The feat is amazing, and there’s also a punchline that, in an instant, makes the whole scene twice as funny.
Bean, The first feature film, released in 1997, was very funny, but it re-used a lot of the gags from the show and spent too much time on the unnecessary plot.
But this time, by inviting comparisons to the great Jacques Tati, Atkinson has thrown down the gauntlet, challenging fans and critics to proclaim Bean the new Hulot.
Bean of Cannes
Luckily, Mr. Bean’s Holiday is excellent, and for fans of the show, it’s absolutely essential. The movie makes no mistakes, has no dry spells, and never tries a joke that doesn’t work.
The setup is that Mr. Bean has won a church raffle. He gets a vacation to Cannes — along with a brand-new video camera. It’s essentially a road movie across France as Bean travels by train, foot, bicycle, scooter, and Mini across France. The movie is episodic, which works perfectly with Atkinson’s style of humor. A scene runs for six or seven minutes while Atkinson milks it for every last laugh, and then the plot moves along to the next scene.
The beauty of Mr. Bean’s Holiday is that there is a larger, overarching story that slowly builds throughout the film, and which is paid off at the end in Cannes. So the movie is not just a collection short skits, strung together by a thin thread of plot. There is a second-level story with second-level jokes that makes Mr. Bean’s Holiday a much better film than its predecessor.
Bean, Sans Gas
There are many reasons to love Mr. Bean’s Holiday. I love the fact that it’s G-Rated without being “for kids.” Like David Lynch’s Straight Story, Mr. Bean’s Holiday tells its story without resorting to murder, language, violence, gore, or any of those other things that some people find objectionable. But it doesn’t pander, either, proving that “G” doesn’t have to mean “infantile.”
I love that Mr. Bean’s Holiday doesn’t even resorting to body-function jokes. Neither Jacques Tati nor Harold Lloyd nor Charlie Chaplin ever lowered themselves to that level, and I appreciate that Atkinson keeps it above the waist.
Alright, I confess, there’s a bit of a grossout as Mr. Bean forces himself to eat an oyster, and then can’t bring himself to do it again. And there are one or two violent gags that might make the squeamish catch their breath. But if the MPAA sees fit to give it their broadest approval, who am I to object?
Atkinson does try something that some comedians have used as a crutch: he introduces a kid into the act. But in this case, it works out just fine. The kid (Max Baldry) doesn’t try to upstage Atkinson, nor is he precious or adorable. He’s just a kid, and he fits in just fine.
I’ll grant that there were a few cuts that didn’t make perfect sense — Bean arrives at a chicken coop, and then suddenly he’s outside hopping around — but I assume the movie was trimmed to be shorter, tighter and funnier. If that means there are a few rough edges, I’m willing to overlook them.
Time will tell whether Bean/Atkinson is as great as Hulot/Tati. In the meantime, I’m more than happy to give him the benefit of the doubt, and I hope Atkinson has more where this came from.