Thirty-one years after embarking on his Big Adventure, Paul Reubens’ greatest creation has returned with the wonderful and long-awaited sequel, Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday. It’s as faithful a sequel as one could hope to find, and though it’s unlikely to convert any haters Big Holiday will undoubtedly introduce a new generation (or two) to a character that will almost certainly outlive us all.
Pee-Wee Herman has spent every day since we last saw him living life in the picturesque town of Fairview. Life changes forever when, following a fateful meeting with Magic Mike star and future best supporting actor consideration Joe Manganiello (playing himself) leads to a budding bromance, Pee-Wee learns he must leave his tiny town in order to attend his new friend Joe’s birthday party in New York City. Pee-Wee has only five days to make the trip, and following Joe’s advice to life a more fulfilling life Pee-Wee refrains from booking a flight. He wants to see the world, and he gets the chance to do so in ways far too numerous to list in full here. From becoming the getaway driver to and captive of a trio of female criminals (Jessica Pohly, Stephanie Beatriz and Alia Shawkat) to road tripping with competitive hairstylists, ballooning with the Amish and exploring the American wilderness with a man who may have lived off the grid a little too long, Pee-Wee sees a side of the U.S. most only experience in the movies, and he brings his unique sense of fun-loving whimsy to every situation.
Reubens, now 63(!), breathes fresh life into the world of family friendly cinema as only he can with his signature slick short hair, dapper grey suit and red bow tie that is always just one size too small. The child-man qualities that make Pee-Wee unique feel fresh yet familiar, offering a fitting introduction to the character for the unfamiliar without relying too heavily on classic gags for laughs. Fans new and old can find something, if not everything to enjoy in each gag, and it’s paced in such a way as to keep a steady stream of quality material coming at an incredible rate.
The supporting players also deliver. Manganiello steals nearly every scene he appears in, and his camaraderie with Pee-Wee feels genuine from the start. Joe and Pee-Wee are the duo you never knew you needed in your life, and it’s Manganiello who often lands the bigger laughs. Roles like that of Richie in Magic Mike have offered fans glimpses of the actor’s comedic talent, but here he’s able to reveal even more of his light-hearted side in ways sure to further any fans love for his work. Stephanie Beatriz and Alia Shawkat, both accomplished comediennes in their own right, deliver performances that are sure to become favorites of their followers as well.
While those names are the ones most likely to resonate with younger audiences, adults will no doubt spend the days immediately following their Big Holiday experience giggling to themselves about an all-too-short appearance from Hal London Jr. Playing a character known simply as Farmer Brown, London sweeps in with a cavalcade of female support at his side and delivers a memorable series of scenes that will be referenced for years to come. You’ll never hear anyone say “Geez Louise” the same again.
While watching Big Holiday, which Reubens co-wrote with Paul Rust, you get the sense that this film is the best representation of the fictional universe that spawned from Reubens’ imagination more than 30 years ago. It’s creative and impressively consistent in a way few comedies ever are, and it brings to mind the same moviegoing sugar rush many first discovered with Big Adventure. Decades may have passed, but it feels as if Pee-Wee never left, and if all goes well it feels as if there could very well be many more adventures in the years ahead. This is the feel-good movie of the year to beat, and it seems unlikely anything will top it. Pee-Wee is in a league all his own. Hail to the king.