Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Film Review: What We Did On Our Holiday

What We Did On Our Holiday is a quaint British comedy from Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, the creative minds behind the BBC improv sitcom, Outnumbered. It's sweet, heartfelt and the right kind of quirky - and although it might veer into unexpected territory at one point or another, the final product is something unrelentingly charming. 

The film follows Abi (Rosamund Pike) and Doug (David Tennant) as they journey to Scotland with their three kids to attend the 75th birthday party of Doug's father, Gordy (Billy Connolly). However, the twosome are faced with keeping a lid on their forthcoming divorce from the rest of the family - not an easy task when you have three smart-mouthed youngsters who don't know the meaning of subtlety.

What follows is a string of awkward family encounters where long-held resentments and tensions are brought to the surface. Like many films about dysfunctional families, What We Did On Our Holiday is as much about the characters as it is about holding up a mirror to the audience so we can laugh at ourselves and our own crazy families.

Also joining the cast alongside Tennant, Pike and Connolly are a raft of British faces including Ben Miller from Death in Paradise and Celia Imrie from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Firstly, Tennant and Pike are great as two (ridiculously good-looking) parents at their wits end - Tennant has that neighbourly charm that'll make you grin from just a casual half-smile and it's really great to see him kick back and have some fun after a string of grim projects like Broadchurch and its shitty US remake Gracepoint.

Meanwhile, Rosamund Pike slots back into a domestic setting once more, albeit with something nowhere near as unsettling as Gone Girl. I wasn't sure about their chemistry at first but more detail comes to light as the film goes on and it becomes easier to buy the two as a couple. That being said, I did like how the film resolved their storyline. It's not contrived or sugary, just appropriate.

The film shifts focus to the trio of children (Emelia Jones, Bobby Smalldridge and Harriet Turnbull) somewhere around the midpoint and veers onto a tangent the like of which you won't expect. What starts out as something fairly sweet and homely is soon channelling Ricky Gervais-style cringe comedy. A comparable film would be something like Death at a Funeral (the original one with Matthew Macfadyen), another offbeat British comedy that basked in awkward moments, incredulous twists and turns and contained more than its fair share of black humour.

Where this film excels is in its portrayal of children and their behaviour. Like on Outnumbered, Hamilton and Jenkin take away the scripts from their young cast and simply instruct them to roll with the scene they're in. This might sound crazy, but it works - no 40-year-old can accurately write dialogue for a 4-year-old and allowing that degree of unpredictability is refreshing. It also brings out the best in the adult cast as they steer the kids through a scene and react to whatever weird shit they come up with.

Something that I didn't like about this film was the inconsistent tone. Sometimes the pretence of being deep and meaningful slipped a little and a fart joke or throwaway line about something juvenile would take its place. This only happened on occasion, but it really threw me out of the film as I feel like that kind of thing is reserved for Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen films.

The Verdict: 7/10

What We Did On Our Holiday is a sweet comedy about dysfunctional families that fits into the mould carved out by Little Miss Sunshine or The Way Way Back. The narrative is a little uneven or loopy but the cast are likeable enough to entertain throughout. I'm not one myself, but I get the sense this is the kind of film parents will find endlessly amusing.

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