Pee-wee Herman calls to the playful child in all of us, the young and adventurous kid who will always have one foot in never-never land. Paul Reubens rules as the personification of the idea that we all see the world in our own zany, idiosyncratic way, held together by that thread that is our own pair of eyes. Quirky, winsome and oh so much fun, Paul Reubens has an inner child with a BIG imagination and a budget to go with it. He treats his fantasies with the kind reverence and devotion, that a child takes to staring at a flower coming out of the ground in springtime or a crack in the sidewalk as he carries the viewer on some sort of retro magic carpet into the not so distant and peculiarly familiar past. Beautifully adapted and produced for the Netflix small screen, Pee-wee's Big Holiday is a very personal adventure of one boy/man trying to know himself. For anyone who grew up in the 1950s or 60s this is a walk down memory lane both visually and culturally. Glorifying all of the bad jokes we remember growing up in the 50's, it's a journey of finding friendship, adventure and an unconventional sort of self respect by being willing to take some very big risks. For today's viewer, it's a theme park excursion through pop-Americana and for the younger among us it manages to entertain without scaring, freaking out or insulting intelligence. It exalts values of belonging to a community where you are loved and valued. It's a story of finding a very special kind of friendship.
In the opening scene we see Pee-wee as a boy who can't leave home, who though he wants to follow his friend into outer space, knows in his heart that somehow he belongs on earth and has to seek his fortunes here.
Pee-wee is a good boy, he follows the rules and does what a good boy is expected to do. He is a believer in the kinds of ideals that shaped post war America. An underappreciated short order cook at Dan's Diner in Fairville, Pee-wee makes everything from malts to French toast perfectly, but he's one of those wallpaper people who is only really appreciated when he is gone. He yearns for more.
Hurt by having his band out grow their desire to be together, Pee-wee finds himself passed by. His boyhood friends suddenly become guy's in letter sweaters who want to date girls and move on. Pee-wee is angry and despondent, that is until Joe Manganiello motorcycles his way into the diner in Fairvillle and changes Pee-wee's life forever. They connect on a profound level, finishing each other's sentences, sharing their love for root beer barrels, a symbol of their inner sameness. "If you're really hungry, the open road is a smorgasbord of experience. Stick around here...or live a little...."says Joe. "Come to my birthday party in The Big Apple."
Like anyone on a journey of life Pee-wee encounters temptation.
Three ladies who robbed a bank, kidnap him so they can use him as their getaway car. He later catches up with them in Amish country where he introduces a mesmerizing, clowning sequence of balloon blowing...and unblowing.... after which he makes (slightly) honest women of them and they take off together. Sirens and dangers of the open road taunt him. But each time something falls apart, a solution appears....and more often than not the solution just leads to something else falling apart....which is what makes it an adventure and I suppose what makes it like life.
But always and ever present is his goal of getting to New York City. Over and over again when it looks as if he will finally get there, he is foiled by some unexpected turn in the road until he finally winds up, by many strange twists of fate, at the bottom of a well just outside Joe's party. Joe meanwhile is suffering a similar unrequited longing in his penthouse apt on Central Park South. Refusing to attend his own 'party of the century", he waits impatiently in his room with Peewee's picture in his hand. Until he hears on the news that there is a boy stuck in a well in Central Park asking only for root beer barrels. With redemption in his eyes, Joe sails from his sky top tower straight to Peewee's rescue.
"I broke rules, I broke hearts I wanted to find out who I was," said Pee-wee, "but you probably didn't even notice I wasn't at your party". When Joe admits that only ten minutes earlier he'd been "bawling his eyes out" because he thought Pee-wee wasn't going to make it to his party, two hearts could finally meet and beat as one.
At the end of the journey Pee-wee had to admit as a final wrap up, "it's been real and it's been fun, and it's been real fun!" (You had to be there!) Anyone of any age who rides along with Pee-wee will find something for themselves in Pee-wee's Big Holiday! Call it the Peter Pan in all of us, or the kid who just won't grow up, it all amounts to the same thing, some part of us like Pee-wee, longs to hold onto that young and innocent heart that keeps us alive inside. Some part of us wants to find that special person for whom the party doesn't start until we get there!