Mr. Bean's Holiday
If anyone could use a vacation, it'd be Mr. Bean.
Perhaps it's overwork that causes Bean—a childlike, inept Londoner who wears a too-small tweed suit and a thin red tie—to act the way he does. Perhaps he's spent too much time in a cubicle, staring at a computer screen, writing ... movie reviews.
No matter the reason, Bean is thrilled when he wins a trip to the French Riviera by entering a church raffle. So it's off to Paris and then to Cannes, with his small travel case and shiny new video camera.
"You speak very good French," says a server on the train, after hearing Bean say "oui" and "non." "Gracias," Bean answers.
But Bean attracts trouble like milk attracts cats. And it doesn't take long for the awkward Englishman to start wreaking havoc. He spills cappuccino on the laptop of a sleeping businessman. He dumps a bevy of slimy oysters into a woman's handbag. He creates a traffic nightmare by marching through busy intersections, oblivious to the cars screeching to a halt all around him.
Should we do something? Asks one French police officer watching the chaos via video. "Relax," says the other. "I think he's English."
Bean goes too far, though, when he asks a fellow passenger—who turns out to be a famous Russian film director—to shoot video of him boarding the train. Bean demands several retakes and, in so doing, causes the director to miss the train. Bean gleefully films the unfortunate director running down the platform ... until he realizes the director's young boy, Stepan, is now onboard by himself.
What follows is, essentially, the story of a boy and his Bean as they take an outlandish journey to Cannes—the lad to be reunited with his father, Bean to claim his long-awaited holiday. Along the way, Bean gets locked in an outhouse, plays air guitar, sticks matches in his eyes, ruins a yogurt commercial and (perhaps) finds true love.
Bean is a "role model" in the same way a 5-year-old might be: He is precocious, selfish and mischievous—but he also can be sweet and has moments in which he teaches those around him something about the simple joys of life and friendship.
Bean feels terrible that he made Stepan's father miss the train. He tries to befriend the boy and shoos away a dirty-looking man who walks toward Stepan at a stop. Stepan doesn't want to have anything to do with Bean at first, but when he tricks Bean into missing the train himself, they join forces. Bean tries to help Stepan use a pay phone to reach his dad, charting out a long list of numbers that could belong to the director's cell phone. And he methodically dials down the list during the duration of the film.
Bean performs bizarre lip-synched musical numbers in a French market to raise money to continue their trip. And when he and the boy link up with a pretty French actress—driving a car coyly similar to Bean's own multi-colored, '77 Leyland Mini—Bean sacrificially burns his finger and props his eyelids open with matchsticks to keep from falling asleep while driving.
OK, so an adult would ask, "Why doesn't he just pull over and get some sleep?" That would, indeed, be the sensible thing to do. Bean is never sensible, but his heart is usually in the right place.
The church from which Bean wins his holiday serves as a backdrop for a few scenes. A cross is visible on a wall behind a coffin.
A prom-style off-the-shoulder gown worn by the French actress is as revealing as things get.
Shortly after Stepan's father misses the train, the boy angrily slaps Bean across the face. Once Stepan and Bean are on better terms, the slap becomes a kind of standard greeting. And when the boy enthusiastically introduces Bean to a traveling rock band, each of its members greet Bean with a hearty cheek smack.
Locked inside, Bean rips an outhouse off its foundation and waddles across a country road while encased in the wooden structure. Offscreen, the outhouse is smashed to bits by a passing truck. Bean also takes part in a World War II battle scene in the yogurt commercial, complete with charging soldiers and exploding buildings. An up-close-and-personal explosion (which we don't actually see) blasts the director's hat up into the air. But though Bean sees ambulances race past to presumably treat the director, the man apparently escapes without a scratch, as Bean always does, too, when catastrophe strikes.
Bean does knock out a security guard at the Cannes Film Festival with his purse. (He has disguised himself by dressing up like an old lady.) And he inflicts some serious damage on a langoustine in a French restaurant, eating the small lobster, shell, claws, buggy eyes and all.
Crude or Profane Language
Twice, Stepan offers frustrated exclamations in Russian. Subtitles (on the DVD) translate both as "d--n." "Heck" and "idiot" put in singular appearances.
Drug and Alcohol Content
If you received all your knowledge of France from Mr. Bean's Holiday, you might assume the majority of the country is as alcohol-free as a church picnic and as smoke-free as an Intel clean room. The only hint of substance abuse comes when a bum, clutching a wine bottle and apparently drunk, staggers over to Stepan, who's sitting on a train platform. Bean encourages him to go elsewhere, and the vagrant turns around, bumps into a pole and says "pardon."
Other Negative Elements
Bean and Stepan flirt with deception (the boy fakes crying) while begging for loose change in a train station. Bean also appropriates for himself (steals) a bicycle and a decrepit scooter. (In two out of the three cases, their efforts produce immediate consequences.)
While riding the bike, Bean grabs ahold of a fast-moving vehicle to hasten his journey. One of the people Bean randomly calls is relieving himself as he answers, and the phone drops into the urinal. Another man, lovesick and depressed, jumps off a bridge when he realizes the call isn't from his one and only. (We see him splash into the water, but unless he couldn't swim, he likely survives; the camera doesn't linger long enough for us to find out one way or the other, though.)
As was Mr. Bean (the 1990s British television series), Mr. Bean's Holiday is a throwback to the essence of silent films starring the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Rowan Atkinson's Bean is a creature of outsized facial expressions and physical gestures, rarely needing to speak to convey meaning, humanity and humor. Even better, he punts bathroom and sexual humor in favor of telling a quirky yet time-honored brand of misadventure story.
Oddly enough, the film may at times be too retro for its own good. We are, after all, talking about a tale that makes light of a young boy gallivanting across the breadth of France with a very strange, um, stranger—a plotline that 30 years ago would've made perfect narrative sense, but now seems a little creepy. Indeed, onscreen, most of France assumes the boy's been abducted by a bizarre and sinister man who makes faces at security cameras.
But this is, perhaps, a movie not to be taken so seriously or tied too strenuously to modern sensibilities. No one in his right mind would emulate Mr. Bean, nor throw his lot in with him on such a catastrophe-inviting cross-country trip. If strictly bound by reality, Mr. Bean's holiday would've ended abruptly and painfully in a Paris intersection, after which his vacation time would turn into sick time ... in a hospital.
Here, as in the distant past—with the exception of two subtitled swear words—the outsized giggles and groans are packaged in a general-audience box. [We're convinced that the exclamations of "d--n" noted above were added to the DVD. We did not see them in the theatrical release.] Kids are consciously catered to without substituting honest-to-goodness humor with slippery slime. And Mr. Bean's Holiday remains just that—an escape from 21st century Hollywood fare to a land filled with sound Three Stooges slaps, ridiculous derring-do and very silly faces of the kind only Mr. Bean can make.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean; Emma de Caunes as Sabine; Max Baldry as Stepan; Willem Dafoe as Carson Clay
Steve Bendelack ( )