Review: What We Did on Our Holiday (2014)
Directors: Andy Hamilton & Guy Jenkin
Screenwriters: Andy Hamilton & Guy Jenkin
Cast: David Tennant, Rosamund Pike, Billy Connolly, Ben Miller, Celia Imrie, Emilia Jones, Amelia Bullmore & Bobby Smalldridge
Runtime: 95 min // Certificate: 12a
The closest we’ll ever get to an Outnumbered film, What We Did on Our Holiday is very much a movie of two halves, neither of which is particularly great but which, when stuck together, work far better than they have any real right to.
Based on the idea that kids are inherently funny (they aren’t, as this film demonstrates), WWDOOH is one of the most tonally inconsistent films of the year. It starts as a typical family drama as the McLeod clan – which consists of Doug (Tennant; Doctor Who), Abi (Pike; Gone Girl) and their three infuriating young children – set off on a holiday to the Scottish Highlands to celebrate Doug’s father Gordie’s (Connolly; Brave) 75th birthday. Some clunky exposition informs us that Doug and Abi are currently going through divorce proceedings, though they want to keep that a secret from Gordie – who has got terminal cancer, and probably won’t live to see his 76th birthday – and as such must convince their three brats to lie about the situation. On their arrival in the Highlands, the façade quickly begins to crumble, not least because of the influence and interference of Doug’s near-tyrannical, millionaire brother Gavin (Miller; Johnny English) and his unwell wife Margaret (Bullmore; Mrs Dalloway), though the kids and Gordie still manage to have some fun amidst all the chaos of lies and deceit.
Then, for some reason that I don’t think anyone can quite fathom, the film takes an ominous and incredulously bleak turn about halfway through and becomes something altogether more peculiar, if not strangely charming. Without wishing to give too much away, the earlier slapstick and “don’t kids say the darnedest things” jokes are replaced by a much darker, drier and more cynical humour that sends the whole affair veering off in all manner of directions. Depending on your point of view, you might argue that the film jumps the shark at that point, though I actually found the drastic shift in tone quite refreshing, not least because the earlier, family-friendly comedy had already run its course within the first fifteen minutes or so.
I was never a big fan of Outnumbered, so there are large chunks of this that do nothing for me, though when some effort has clearly been put in and the script has been followed, it’s actually quite funny. The adlibbing and improvisation that defines most of the interactions between the children, while commendable, doesn’t hold up to anywhere near as much scrutiny as the rest of the screenplay, which shows the promise of real greatness on a number of occasions, particularly in the latter half of the film. Similarly, though the child actors do a solid enough job of being just about tolerable, it really is the adults (in particular, Tennant and Pike) who steal the show and put some meat on the film’s bones. Furthermore, though Connolly pretty much phones it in, he’s so naturally affable that this isn’t really an issue, and he is by far the funniest character of the lot.
What We Did on Our Holiday is a strange little film that subverts expectations, though perhaps not always for the better. I appreciate it for doing something a bit out-there and dispensing with the trite, feel-good nonsense of its earlier scenes to focus more heavily on a family in genuine crisis-mode, but it’s only successful about 50% of the time. Nonetheless, despite my reservations I did laugh quite a lot as things started to fall to bits in the latter half of the film, and I quite enjoyed seeing Billy Connolly trying his best to pretend like he was enjoying the company of three children on a cold Scottish beach, so it gets some credit just for that.