Thursday, 22 March 2007

Mr Bean's Holiday (2007)

Bean there, done that

Mr Bean was the biggest thing in comedy 15 years ago. I remember watching the original television series, where in the space of 10 minutes, Rowan Atkinson would present a comedy that involved either Mr Bean torturing his teddy bear, making an unfortunate child in public transport very uncomfortable, have culinary adventures with seafood, get pieces of clothing stuck where they shouldn't be, solve puzzles with his uniquely unconventional solutions, and creating havoc for other people as he goes about his general business while contorting his face and body into impossibly humorous or possibly horrifying shapes. As a sketch show goes, Mr Bean was successful because people loved being reminded of the boorish and selfish inner troll that lurks in all of us: if we are not allowed by our inner social policeman to constrain ourselves and behave, we'd probably have as much fun as nasty Mr Bean cutting queues, sabotaging others, vandalising property and so on. But since there's this inner policeman, what we can do at most is to laugh heartily as Mr Bean fulfils our inner antisocial fantasies.

But even successful comedy series have a shelf life; public tastes change, jokes wear thin, and writers find themselves running out of fresh ideas and gags - after 5 years of the television series, Rowan Atkinson and his co-writers called it a day. In 1997, Bean, created after the end of the series are faced with a gargantuan challenge - if the creators of the show felt they had said all there was to strange Englishman and his comic ways, what could a feature film possibly offer after that? By all accounts, the 1997 film has to be a failure: it was a compilation of recycled gag routines from the television series, trotted out for an American audience who presumably haven't seen the originals before (no one watches PBS, apparently), tacked on with an ending that was entirely out of character for Mr Bean (the character known for articulating in half-swallowed vowels and other brief vocalisations gave a speech). Now that Rowan Atkinson has a new Mr Been movie a decade after the first feature film, we can only hope that Mr Bean stays in character while the jokes and gags are new this time round. And hopefully, the world hasn't changed that much for us to find his new or old antics difficult to laugh at.

The chances are high: Mr Bean wins a trip to Cannes, France - hopefully the vacation, a change of scenery, and an immersion in a different culture should provide Atkinson and his co-writers chances to invent new gags for their creation. But then, that was what everyone expected when Mr Bean went to America 10 years ago...

Mr Bean's Report Card

Yes, Mr Bean is in character for the whole of the film! He mumbles, vocalises, and speaks occasionally, but rarely uses more than one word in a sentence.

Novelty factor

The first 2/3s of the movie recycles many familiar Bean jokes from the television series - the seafood adventures, the falling asleep/dozing off face contortion gag, the attempts to annoy a kid on public transport gag, the Mr Bean dance routine... The silver lining in this is that a few of the jokes and comic routines have been updated, although you may still suffer from occasional bouts of deja vu watching this.

The most novel jokes actually involve gadgets that have come to the forefront in the years between the two Bean movies - the handphone and the consumer camera. Atkinson misses with the handphone jokes, but the consumer camera is gold (and provides more than one gag)!

General Hilarity

I suppose it all depends on whether you ever get tired of the typical Bean jokes, and whether you react with nostalgia or boredom watching some recycled jokes. But regardless of whether the joke was old or new, Mr Bean's Holiday is genuinely funny when the jokes work perfectly. I personally felt the funniest part of the movie was in its final 15 minutes, because the gag was largely performed by Willem Dafoe playing a self-absorbed auteur, and Mr Bean's involvement in the joke was entirely unexpected (good, since we want to see new Bean jokes) and yet in character (we still want new Bean jokes to feel Beanish!).

Improvements over first Bean movie

The disappointing thing about Mr Bean's Holiday is that 10 years after Bean, Rowan Atkinson and gang still haven't figured out how to make a feature length Bean film without turning it into a series of short sketches. The great thing about Mr Bean's holiday is its last 15 minutes and its Buster Keaton style gag at the end.

Come back for more?
Rowan Atkinson has said that this will be his final movie as Mr Bean. It's hard not to see why - only 15 minutes of the movie feels totally new, and the best joke in the movie was performed by Willem Dafoe. Mr Bean's Holiday is still a vast improvement over Bean, and a fitting and honorable end to the Mr Bean series.

First published at incinemas on 22 March 2007

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