‘Pee-wee’s Big Holiday’ a genuine delight
As someone who was born in the 1980s, Pee-wee Herman was a huge part of my childhood. From Pee-wee’s Playhouse, which taught me how much fun you could have with nothing more than your imagination, to Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, where I learned that the Alamo does not have a basement, to Big Top Pee-Wee, which left me with the early career goal of being a trapeze artist like Gina Piccolapupula, Paul Reubens’ iconic character was forever cemented in my psyche. Years passed and I grew up with fond memories of the Pee-wee days, wondering why no one had ever been able to deliver something as good as the famous gray-suited wonder. Sure, there were throwback shows or reboots that tapped into my generation’s quest to relive our childhoods, but nobody was like Pee-wee. Then this week, the nostalgia gods at Netflix delivered Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, and reminded everyone why we loved Pee-wee Herman so much in the first place.
In the new movie, our titular hero is just a happy guy in the town of Fairville, a happy place where everyone knows each other and gets along. He’s totally content there and has no desire to change anything, a nice little nod to the film itself, which is not quite a reboot, but more a pleasant reminiscing of Big Adventure. Pee-wee may not be interested in changing his world, but his attitude flips when a mysterious stranger (Joe Manganiello, playing himself) happens into the diner where Pee-wee works and the two bond over similar tastes in milk shakes and root beer candy. Joe opens Pee-wee’s mind to a whole world of adventure and invites Pee-wee to his birthday party in New York, prompting Pee-wee to venture out of his comfort zone and make a road trip to the Big Apple. “Pee-wee Herman goes on a road trip. I’ve see this all before,” you might say. Yes, but Big Holiday just goes to show that the format works, so why change it?
On the way, Pee-wee becomes the unwitting accomplice of a gang of female bank robbers fresh out of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Thankfully for him, one of the girls (Alia Shawkat) just so happens to be nicknamed “Pee-wee” and takes a shine to our hero. Still, the girls take off with his car, leaving him to fend for himself on his way to the big city.
In his travels, he encounters a series of kind but quirky characters like a traveling novelty prop salesman, a farmer who intends to make Pee-wee marry one of his zaftig daughters, a trio of stylists on their way to a hair show, an heiress with a flying car, a lonely mountain man who keeps Pee-wee in his cave, and a group of Amish villagers. It’s at this village where he is reunited with the girl gang, who are hiding out there. He decides to join them, and they all head to New York.
Finally, he’s almost ready for Joe’s party, but wouldn’t you know it, he falls down a well in Central Park. Joe is depressed as his new BFF hasn’t arrived at his party. He spends the whole evening moping in his room when he sees a news report about a boy trapped in a well requesting root beer barrels, the same candy they shared back in Fairville. He springs into action and goes to save Pee-wee from the well because that’s what true friends do.
Reubens is on point, reviving his beloved character for a new generation. We don’t love Pee-wee ironically. We love him for real because he’s innocent, kind, and fun—all the same reasons we loved him thirty years ago. The movie’s funniest moments aren’t a snarky nod to dated nostalgia, they’re genuine and played with conviction—which is particularly impressive from Manganiello. Big Holiday is a reminder of why we continue to love each Pee-wee adventure.
So make your way to Netflix to check out Pee-wee’s Big Holiday…and tell ‘em Large Marge sent ya!