Monday 29 September 2014

Film: 'What We Did On Our Holiday'

I'd feared that I'd be disliking this film. It had all the 'right' ingredients for that result. And thus it turned out to prove.

The title has a certain resonance with the slasher-horror series 'I Know What You Did Last Summer', but dismiss that from your minds.

The first half of this film is played as broad comedy, during which it didn't raise even the ghost of a smile from me. Then an event happens which lurches it into a different world, veering uneasily between black comedy and farce - and which gave me two occasions for half-smiles at the most. It ends with thickly laid-on sentiment to make one wince and double-wince. Oh dear!

I went because it's co-scripted and co-directed by Andy Hamilton, whom I like (with Guy Jenkin). Hamilton is a prolific comedy writer for radio, as well as being a regular panelist on light-hearted quiz shows for both radio and TV. So I thought it might be a cut above the usual. Sadly, not so.

David Tennant (one of the recent incarnations of Doctor Who, as well as having played the finest 'Hamlet' I've seen for decades - there was a television version of the RSC production a few years ago) plays the father of a three-child family. His wife, Rosamund Pike, I'll be seeing again shortly in 'Gone Girl'.
The five of them drive from London to Scotland for the 75th birthday celebrations of Tennant's father, Billy Connolly, who's suffering from terminal cancer and who is bravely trying to keep his suffering hidden from others. When they arrive at Tennant's wealthy brother's (Ben Miller) palatial house where all are to meet, naturally Connolly gravitates towards the children, wisecracking with them and taking them on an excursion to the beach while the many dozens of guests arrive to participate in the elaborate celebrations - several marquees, Scottish band, a veritable banquet prepared.
Not only is Connolly trying to hide his true condition from everyone, Tennant and Pike have to keep up the pretence of a happy marriage when they're actually on the edge of divorce, bickering like anything when they're alone.

There's an added poignancy to Connolly's role in that only a few weeks ago it was revealed that in real life he is not only suffering from prostate cancer, but the onset of Partkinson's has also been diagnosed.

The children aged (I'm guessing) around 11, 7 and 4, were particularly irksome, the two youngest most of all. Why did they give the youngest so many lines when at least three quarters of what she said was lost to me in infant burbling? I suppose what we're supposed to think is "Aw, so sweet!"

I was shifting in my seat all through this film and looked at my watch more than a few times. If you're one of those who doesn't have my resistance to being manipulated and carried along, suspending your critical faculties, then I can well understand how you may well like it - and I wouldn't dare to venture that that view is any less valid than mine. But, for my own terms on what constitutes a film that entertains me, I must give this a lowly......................2.5/10 


  1. hey, another really cool review. i watch movies to escape from the pain of real life. so i don't mind so much if there's a bit of emotional manipulation going on. well, sometimes a really dramatic soundtrack will make me wince.

    i watch documentaries in a totally different way (especially if i know a thing or two about the subject matter). my critical thinking becomes absolute. i expect facts - not fiction.

    i really do like your honest and intelligent movie reviews. most american film critics make me wince big time. roger ebert was the only exception.

    1. Thanks again, Zach. If one doesn't give a frank reaction in a review I don't see the point of doing one at all - and if it's insincere people pick up on it anyway, so why bother?

      Maybe my tolerance level when it comes to emotional manipulation is lower than some people's, but I do tend to feel irritation a lot when the audience around me are laughing their heads off - though I must say that in this one they weren't.

      I'm with you entirely on obtrusive soundtracks. If it's telling me what to think then the film itself has failed in that respect.

      The name Roger Ebert hasn't travelled over here. Must check the name out.

      Hope I come up with something soon to get you to see something you otherwise wouldn't have bothered with - or, conversely, save you spending money.

  2. Ray,
    The premise of this movie sounds good but I'm immediately put off by the presence of the "cutsie pie" children probably making comments beyond their years of comprehension (you can always tell when scriptwriters put their words into children's mouths). It's a shame this movie wasn't better because it sound like one I would have liked, minus the children of course.
    Thank you again for another fine movie review. I'm beginning to depend on you as my conduit for movies. I'm thinking about canceling my subscription to "Entertainment Weekly", which heretofore, has been my source of reviews for movies. You movie reviews are infinitely much better than theirs.

  3. Your second para - I wouldn't cancel any subs to rely on me instead, Ron. There's an awful lot of films that pass me by that I'd like to have seen - reasons being not showing at suitable times and venues, as well as cost of seeing all I want to. But I'm flattered that you put such great reliance on my opinions, which are, of course, very fallible.

    Re this film: Actually the kids in this film aren't quite the precocious brats that I too so hate to see depicted. Their language is crude, but maybe all kids are so these days, as you and I maybe weren't. But for other reasons, such as heavy sentiment, I'd avoid seeing this film again.