DIRECTORS: Andy Hamilton and Guy JenkinWWDOOHPoster3

CAST: David Tennant, Rosamund Pike, Billy Connolly, Celia Imrie, Ben Miller, Emilia Jones, Amelia Bullmore, Annette Crosbie, Lewis Davie, Ben Presley, Jake D’Arcy, Bobby Smalldridge, Alexia Barlier, Harriet Turnbull

RUNNING TIME: 95 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: On a family trip up to Scotland for grandfather Gordie’s (Connolly) birthday, parents Doug (Tennant) and Abi (Pike) struggle with their disintegrating marriage…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Starting off as a pale big-screen imitation of their popular sitcom Outnumbered, directors Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin end their first feature film What We Did On Our Holiday in a very unexpected place indeed. Unfortunately, that place happens to be an uncomfortably disturbing one, and it takes a serious toll on the movie as a whole.

It’s clear from the opening few minutes that the tone which Hamilton and Jenkin want to achieve is the same type of farcical and semi-grounded comedy they brought to that show, with arguments between parents and young children about their pet rocks and the like seeming awfully familiar to the point of plagiarism. It’s as if they actually wrote a feature film version of Outnumbered but for some reason decided to recast with slightly higher-profile actors, including David Tennant, Rosamund Pike and Billy Connolly (all of whom do well despite lacking true meat in their characters). Sure, the characters may seem different but if you start to scratch at the surfaces you’ll find that the directors are just rehashing their own material and sticking to what they consider to be safe.

From there, the rest of the first half falls under the same category and becomes both dull and repetitive very quickly. It doesn’t help that the signs come quick and fast that Hamilton and Jenkin haven’t quite grasped the whole concept of film for their debut effort. Choppy editing may have proved a valuable source on television, but for film there are different rules and the constant cutting to and from different scenes is extremely irritating, especially when it comes in the middle of a particularly dramatic scene. Their direction also feels lifeless, as if they relied on the improvisational skills of their actors more than they did give actual guidance (which, from an actor’s perspective, isn’t that bad but it isn’t enough to create an entire movie).

Even the writing and gags feel off – though there are ones that definitely hit the mark, including a priceless sight gag involving the Clapper and a fart sound effect which despite oneself this reviewer actually giggled at (say whatever you want, but they found it funny). Aside from that, though, the comedy never truly takes off and comes across as more awkward than funny. An argument scene between Tennant and Pike’s divorcing couple ends with a rape gag, because y’know, rape always makes for a funny punchline (!). A mistaken identity gag with the Viking-obsessed son goes absolutely nowhere, even when it’s apparently set up to be something later on. At various points in the movie, a random ostrich just runs across the screen… um, why? Ostriches never come back into the movie aside from a few appearances at a nearby farm, but they are not prominent and have nothing to do with the story. So why even have that happen if it adds bugger all to the proceedings? The randomness of it isn’t what makes it funny, guys; you have to know more about comedy than that, you did Outnumbered for crying out loud!

So, as you can probably figure out the film isn’t doing so well on its own already… and then we get to the half-way point.

To discuss it would be to reveal spoilers, which is not what we particularly want to do unless it’s really necessary in illustrating a point. All you need to truly know is that something happens that is both devastating and tragic, and events are put into motion that the rest of the film puts its focus on. Said events are extremely disturbing, especially when you see who is responsible for causing them. The problem is that the film treats it as cutesy and innocent when it’s anything but, and it borders on psychopathic nature. It doesn’t help family matters (not until its painfully forced and schmaltzy conclusion), it just proceeds to make them worse, and the film just goes a few steps too far over the line when it tries to milk comedy out of these moments where comedy is decisively inappropriate. It feels wildly misguided, especially for a family comedy, and would take a toll on the film if it weren’t for the fact that the film wasn’t so steady to begin with.

Sadly, the film’s biggest disappointment is that even the child performances draw mixed reactions, and it’s by no means the fault of these young actors – Emilia Jones, Bobby Smalldridge and Harriet Turnball, for those wanting a namecheck – it’s once again a sign of bad direction. Some of the stuff they come out with can raise a few smiles here and there, but that’s just kids being kids. When it comes to more heavy-handed scenes, Hamilton and Jenkin don’t seem to have given them much advice on how to approach them. When faced with that major event that leads into its woefully uneven second half, none of them are brought to tears or even look sad, they just keep making jokes as if they think it’s all they need to do. Now, with someone like five-year-old Turnball’s character it’s understandable since they’re a little too young to fully comprehend the situation, but isn’t the eldest child eleven? She should be old enough to have more of an emotional reaction, but she never does and it is one of the many things that bring us out of this realm of reality that What We Did On Our Holiday tried so poorly to convey. Sorry guys, Outnumbered is great but this one’s a dud.

SO, TO SUM UP…

What We Did On Our Holiday is an uncomfortable film to watch, due to a poor first-time effort by writer-directors Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin who waste the fine talents of their performers, bring us confused and ill-judged jokes to the screen, rehash character traits from their more successful TV careers, and go off the rails with a painfully disturbing second-half. This is a holiday you’ll soon want to forget.