‘What We Did on Our Holiday’ Review
British indie comedies have a familiar rhythm and timbre to them, which engages the target audience but has trouble speaking to anyone else. Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkins’ What We Did on Our Holiday is definitely a typical British indie comedy that plays directly to its target audience with little regard for wanting to draw in a fuller audience. Though all the recognizable conventions are present, the film is shallow, lacking in more than superficial development of everything, and a bit confused as to its tone given the subject matter. Hamilton and Jenkins rely on characters with one quirk that defines their every action throughout the film and creates a story that not only feels like a BBC TV show inexplicably stretched to fit the 1 ½ hour runtime, but also one that felt like the first draft of a film on the way to an interesting story run by interesting full characters.
Doug (David Tennant) and Abi (Rosamund Pike) and their three children travel to the Scottish Highlands for Doug’s father Gordie’s (Billy Connolly) birthday party. As the two are in the midst of a messy divorce, Doug and Abi convince their kids to keep their secret from the ailing Gordie and Doug’s uptight brother Gavin (Ben Miller), but with a secret so big, their smart talking kids find it hard to keep their parents’ lie from their equally snarky grandfather. On the day of the extravagant party, Gordie takes his grandchildren to the beach where his philosophies on life and love take root and provide his family with a great lesson in how to live together.
From the start, What We Did on Our Holiday is a cute, heartwarming British comedy that only requires a little tension, snarky, quirky kids, and a few famous faces to succeed with its target audience. Underneath all these superficial elements lies nothing that makes the film special, anything new, or even that good to begin with. Along with the hollow nature of the characters, because of the way in which the story is told ended up making the film extremely predictable, which didn’t work with the complex themes and ideals it was trying to relay. The script was superficially developed without much thought put into creating the depth necessary to make the themes really resonate, and the massive lack in character development made the script’s skin deep nature even more noticeable.
As with the first draft of any script like What We Did on Our Holiday, each character was given one quirk in their nature that defined them for the rest of the film, and without more complexity given in further drafts of this particular film, we could predict from the start the characters’ every thought and reaction as the story played out. This led the way for equally predictable and uninteresting performances from the star-studded cast. Billy Connolly was the only cast member that gave a performance filled with any semblance of the comedy the film was attempting to portray, but his genuine comedic genius is the root of his convincing performance, not any true character development.
Even with the film’s lack of development, what ends up being its massive downfall outside its target audience is the apparent genre confusion that lies under the surface of the whole story. Though the film did have a few funny moments, mostly we were struggling to distinguish the movie as a straight indie comedy or a black comedy. Eventually, the film is focused on the last wishes of Gordie, centering the lighthearted comedic moments around an incredibly morbid event that almost made laughing at the kids’ and adults’ antics feel wrong. The film is neither fully a comedy nor dark enough to be a drama, but had elements of both with no tangible cohesion between them but the filmmakers expecting audiences to simply go with it because of their understanding of what they were making. Because of this genre confusion, the logistics of the events as well as the timings of the jokes and overall structure of the film felt off, even with the story’s predictability.
As a British indie comedy, What We Did on Our Holiday is exactly what audiences are expecting with nothing overly new or earth shattering to offer to the genre. For lovers of this BBC type of comedy, this is all that is needed for an enjoyable movie. However, even with the beautiful sweeping landscapes and well-known cast, for the rest of us the film is shallow, lacking in interesting development either through characters or story, and confused over which genre it wanted to fit into without any working link to make it work as both a comedy and a drama. Though this could be down to a misreading of the British indie comedy genre as a whole, flat characters and shallow, easy storytelling can only take a film so far, and unfortunately only the target audience will enjoy this one.(1.5 / 5)
(Photos copyright: BBC Films)