Film Review – What We did On Our Holiday

Director: Andy Hamilton, Guy Jenkin

Writer: Andy Hamilton, Guy Jenkin

Starring: Rosamund Pike, David Tennant, Billy Connolly 

Tagline: “Not your usual family vacation”

Trivia: The kilt that Ben Miller wears for Gordie’s party is a real clan Macleod tartan.

Growing up in Israel, death was never a topic to laugh about. It was a serious morbid topic we all had to deal with, even as children.

As I grew up I chose to look at it in a different way, which was that we should celebrate the life the person had, not the moment of his or her death, even if they were too young to die.

I was happy to discover that this view is shared in the comedy What We Did On Our Holiday written and directed by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin.

It’s a comedy about a couple on a verge of divorce taking their three children to their grandad’s, Gordie, (Billy Connolly) birthday party, but are keeping their plan to separate as a secret from their three children.

One of the movie’s essential insights is that trying to conceal things from your children is a mistake, and we have ample evidence of this in the story. The reason they wish to withhold this fact is that Gordie is dying and they don’t wish to add to his suffering.

The opening scene is so hilarious it’s one any parent who had to pack their children for a long car ride could recognize even with the extreme scenes that were written in.
I loved the movie even if it would had only that opening scene of parents on the brink of hysteria as kids running all over them.

Dad Doug (David Tennant) is negotiating with his youngest girl, the adorable and strange Jess (Harriet Turnbull) about the “friends” she can bring with her; one of them, it seems, is a brick.

“Her best friends are stones now?” Doug asks estranged wife Abi (Rosamund Pike) shortly after. “Have you spoken to anybody about it?” The ever-exasperated Abi rolls her eyes and shoots back “Who? A geologist?”

The movie is inspired by the BBC sitcom Outnumbered, also a Hamilton and Jenkin effort, in which two parents were pitted against three children and a lot of the dialogue was improvised in a “kids say the darnedest things” spirit.

What We Did On Our Holiday does a good job of making the young characters look terrifically spontaneous, and the adult cast is full with expertise. These include a heart-tugging hook (provided by Billy Connolly as the croaking chap), a painful secret and a liberal spoonful of quirky relatives and eccentric locals.

About halfway through the film comes the central plot twist, and it leads to the funny, moving situation comedy that is What We Did on Our Holiday.

The movie gains validity from the factual, even dry way in which the children accept the imminent loss. In this I think that the movie offers a believable insight, enhancing the comedy with a low-key seriousness that allows the movie not only to entertain but surprise us too.

The third act is the one that is the least strong in this movie whereby the comedy runs out of hand and too many impossible scenarios are taking place, which not always are clear how they are connected.

Another element is that what makes the movie charming also makes it a bit tiresome, which is, that almost every line in it tries to be witty or amusing, and the rapidity of the dialogue at times feels forced.

In spite of all that What We Did on Our Holiday convinces us that it is more than okay to celebrate a life well lived at a funeral as a way of remembering (and mourning) the life of the man instead of just focusing on his final moments.

Life is more than just a death. This film serves as a reminder to not only to the characters in the film, but to people as a whole, that life is too valuable to spend fighting over petty things and is better spent enjoyed and lived.

The film gives us real advice in that respect, and continues its authenticity by not betraying the realism it has established by giving us a clean, Disney-style ending where every problem is resolved and everyone lives happily ever after.

The parents remain separated, the news outlets are still vultures trying to prey on the children, and the grandfather is still dead and gone.

Verdict – 4/5 Stars in my book

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