Watching the man-child’s latest outing, Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday, however, you wouldn’t know it.
Thanks to some digital wizardry, Paul Reubens, who originated the role 33 years ago, appears to have not aged a blip – while the candy-colored, merry world director John Lee conjures for the Netflix-produced comedy does a fabulous job of recalling Pee-wee’s past adventures.
As a result, the film plays like nirvana for Pee-wee fans, who either grew up with or simply admired the beguiling creation, which held a unique hold on pop culture for well over a decade. For newcomers, his appeal might prove elusive: despite producer Judd Apatow’s involvement, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is distinctly retro in tone.
Starting with a dream sequence that seems to anticipate an extraterrestrial element to the storyline that sadly never transpires, Reubens and Paul Rust’s screenplay keeps the proceedings earthbound, with Pee-wee stuck in an all-too real rut at the outset of the comedy.
Working as a cook at the local diner in his picture-perfect town of Fairville, Pee-wee appears his sunny self - that is until the all-boy band decides to break up. “We need to move on to new things,” explains one of his co-members. Devastated, Pee-wee experiences a mini-meltdown, lashing out at his patrons and crying in the kitchen. For fans, the effect is a bit startling: Pee-wee’s not known for ever shedding his cheery disposition.
Things perk up for Pee-wee with the arrival of Joe Manganiello, playing himself, who rolls in in slow motion (of course) to order a chocolate milkshake. Immediately, Pee-wee is smitten – the homoerotic nature of their relationship is a running joke, and kind of sweet.
After bonding over their shared love for root beer barrel candy, Manganiello demands that his new friend attend his upcoming lavish birthday bash in New York City. Pee-wee, relishing the attention, gleefully accepts the invite, agreeing to travel there by vehicle per Manganiello’s advice: “Three days on the open road is worth more than a lifetime in Fairville.”
The madcap journey that follows fails to reach the surreal heights set by Tim Burton in Pee-wee’s first (and best) big screen outing, 1985’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, save for an inspired sequence that sees Pee-wee take to the skies in a flying car.
Still, the many bizarre encounters he makes on his way to the Big Apple are generally amusing, thanks to the game cast (Alia Shawkat makes a lasting impression as a sexy female burglar) and Pee-wee’s always impressionable nature.
- Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is streaming now on Netflix.
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