When it comes to physical comedy there is an art to it and it is easy to tell between those who can and cannot manage it. Rowan Atkinson is without doubt one of the finest physical comics of our generation. His timing, mannerisms and ability to use all aspects of his body for comic effect, recall the silent era comedy greats. However, as is the case for this type of comedy as a whole, Atkinson’s iconic comic creation Mr. Bean is either your thing or it isn’t (it is very much this writer’s thing). The lone, near-mute, British, bumbling, man-child annoys many audiences, but Atkinson’s mastery of this genre has made Mr. Bean one of the most internationally successful and recognisible comedy characters ever created. Due to the reliance on rubber-faced expression and mannerisms over dialogue, Bean has cross-cultural appeal that defies the language barrier. That said, in bringing the character to the big screen, some have said that the transition has been so-so at best.
The first effort, Mel Smith’s 1996 film Bean, had its moments but changed the Television show’s formula and the whole facet of the character, by having Bean speak more fluently and toning down the occasional peevishness of the character. A character Atkinson himself has called, “a child inside a man’s body”. However with Mr. Bean’s Holiday, released back in 2007, Hamish McColl and Robin Driscoll’s script attempted to revert back to the show’s winning formula- albeit still making Bean less mean (in the childish sense). The result is a film that will not win any new fans over but will entertain those who love the character and offer audiences tired of sweary, lewd, mainstream comedy, something very old school and very inoffensively commendable.
The plot is essentially in the title, though there is slightly more to it, as Mr. Bean (Atkinson) wins a church raffle and receives a holiday to Cannes, some spending money and a camcorder (we’ve only ever won a soap set!!). So as Mr. Bean heads to France, recording his misadventures along the way, his trip does not go exactly as planned. A train mishap leaves Bean stranded with a young boy, Stepan (Max Baldry), and the two must find their way to Cannes, so Stepan can be reunited with his father and Mr. Bean can, well, go to the beach of course! Mr. Bean’s Holiday is an unapologetic love letter to French cinema (the title is inspired- like the character- by Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953), conjuring a constant sense of déjà vu with some of its colourfully shot landscapes and ‘70s style French cinematography that seems awash in summer colour and vibrant sheen.
The problem with the film is really that Bean is a character more suited to smaller scaled chaos, the reason the show worked so well is because it focused on the daily grind and how this clumsy individual would, with child-like imagination, solve problems in the most over thought and long-winded ways possible. It feels ever so slightly strange to see him spruced up on the big screen, in a pacey adventure. Not to mention one that is so overstuffed with elements, combining slapstick with foreign feature drama and road movie tropes. The film starts off slowly too, with many of the gags being near repeats (and less well structured ones) from the television series. There is admittedly a constant silly energy, mostly powered by Atkinson’s commitment, but the early worries leave you thinking that this will be an awkwardly dated adventure. Thankfully those worries are soon alleviated, as the plot seems to find its feet. True there is a sugary aspect to the script and the film never hits the highs of the series but it is constantly likable and does offer a few worthwhile messages.
In many ways Holiday comes to parody certain breeds of cinema- the Cannes setting was clearly going to involve the Cannes Film Festival- and offers a swell message of how pretentious people, who think they know what it is to be human, are often looking in all the wrong places. The satirical elements may be slight, this is after all a film that sets out to make you grin rather than guffaw, but overall it is unexplainably heart warming to see this bumbling character finally get the companionship that in many ways he has never attained- even if he doesn’t necessarily realise it.
This is Atkinson’s show and he makes it all work, in what was the character’s grande departure- though viewers who caught the 2012 Olympics and Comic Relief last year, know that it wasn’t the last time we would see Mr. Bean. That said he is supported by a great set of performances from Max Baldry as the likable Stepan and Emma De Caunes as actress Sabine, who strikes a sweet chemistry with Atkinson’s hapless traveller. Then there is Willem Dafoe’s humourously stone-faced performance as initially pompous Director Carson Clay, which is a nice touch.
Mr. Bean’s Holiday is far from perfect and has a slow start and many sequences that miss the mark (the tie vending machine). That said the spirit of Buster Keaton, Jacques Tati and Harold Lloyd live on, in a handful of sequences in the film, featuring splendidly silly stunts (The Jour de Fête referencing Bicycle scene, vehicle walk to the beach and almost Looney Toons-like shed escape) and well-performed scenes (The “O mio babbino caro” routine). Plus it is admirable and somewhat unique in this day and age to see a mainstream film that is largely dialogue-free or subtitled for a great deal of the duration. Mr. Bean’s Holiday is not a laugh riot and is inferior to the character's televised pratfalls but there is slightly more to it than you might expect and, like a seaside trip with the family, this holiday is a sweet and sunny experience.
Special Features: Featurettes / Deleted Scenes
MR. BEAN’S HOLIDAY (2007) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: STEVE BENDELACK / SCREENPLAY: HAMISH MCCOLL, ROBIN DRISCOLL / STARRING: ROWAN ATKINSON, EMMA DE CAUNES, MAX BALDRY, WILLEM DAFOE/ RELEASE DATE: 15TH FEBRUARY