Mr. Bean's Holiday

Mr. Bean's Holiday
Director: Steve Bendelack
Screenplay: Hamish McColl and Robin Driscoll (story by Simon McBurney; based on an original character created by Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis)
Stars: Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean), Emma de Caunes (Sabine), Jean Rochefort (Maître D'), Karel Roden (Emil), Max Baldry (Stepan), Willem Dafoe (Carson Clay)MPAA Rating: G
Year of Release: 2007
Country: U.K. / France / Germany / U.S.
Mr. Bean's Holiday DVD
Mr. Bean's HolidayEver since he first debuted on the BBC with a series of half-hour comedy shorts in 1990, Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean has been compared to Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot. Both are near-mute, gangly comic creations without first names who seem to exist largely in their own heads, which means they are often amusingly oblivious to the world around them. They're resolutely working class and wear variations of the same uniform--suits that look like they've been in the dryer too long and have shrunk accordingly, although Mr. Bean's is decidedly British with its tweedy jacket and brown pants. And, most importantly, they both tend to create inadvertant mayhem wherever they go.

Yet, there is an important distinction between the two screen clowns, and it's not the obvious fact that one is French and the other is British. No, the difference is one of tone. Hulot is an intrepidly decent man, sweet-natured and gentle with a goofy charm that made him immediately endearing when he first stepped onto the screen in 1954's M. Hulot's Holiday. Mr. Bean, on the other hand, is quite the opposite: A perennial man-child, he is infinitely selfish, short-sighted, and impatient. Atkinson's elastic mug is the perfect barometer of Bean's emotional states, which tend to register only in childish extremes of joy, confusion, and frustration. Despite his popularity, Mr. Bean is not a particularly likeable character, which is the core of the character's comic genius. You can't help but root for Bean, even when his various shenanigans involve undercutting everyone around him (describing the character in The New York Times back in 1993 when the original episodes were first aired in the U.S. on HBO, John O'Connor wrote, “He's lovable and, at the same time, ever so slightly creepy”).

Mr. Bean hasn't appeared on-screen for nearly a decade, but Atkinson has brought him back one last time in Mr. Bean's Holiday, whose title practically begs comparison with Tati's first Hulot film. Written by Hamish McColl and Robin Driscoll (a veteran of the Bean TV series) from a story by actor Simon McBurney, Mr. Bean's Holiday takes the wise tack of getting Bean out of his droll London surroundings (which were made all the more droll in the TV series with the low-res video in which it was shot) and putting him on a lavish cross-country trip to Cannes, France, where he has won an all-expenses-paid vacation. Director Steve Bendelack immediately recognizes the inherent visual humor of placing Bean in beautiful surroundings; he belongs in a shabby apartment or inside his multi-colored Mini, not standing by the road in the French countryside or hiking up a hill against a luminous sunset. It isn't a big surprise that, when the film opens in London, it is pouring rain.

Any Bean adventure is bound to be a misadventure, and Mr. Bean's Holiday finds all kinds of trouble, starting with our bumbling antihero's foray into fine French dining, which finds him trying to cram an entire langoustine into his mouth and dumping raw oysters into a woman's handbag to avoid eating them. Bean's biggest faux pas, though, is separating a father from his 12-year-old son, Stepan (Max Baldry). This produces what must be a first in Bean's existence: a partnership. Granted, Bean is not exactly pleased to be stuck with a kid, and the kid is even less pleased. Yet, they make a good team, partially because neither has the need for nor the ability to communicate verbally (Stepan is actually quite verbose, but he speaks French, which Bean doesn't understand at all).

The journey across France finds Bean losing all his belongings, lip-synching opera in a French market to get money, stumbling into a yogurt commercial shoot that inexplicably features tanks and an army of Nazis, chasing a chicken who has run off with his ticket, and finally teaming up with a young French actress named Sabine (Emma de Caunes) who is on her way to Cannes because she has a bit role in a new film by a Vincent Gallo-like snooty American filmmaker named Carson Clay (Willem Dafoe, apparently trying to outmug Atkinson). Along the way we get plenty of Bean's signature McGuyver-like ingenuity, in which he uses ordinary objects in extraordinarily bizarre ways to achieve his ends (who else would think to pry his eyes open with matchsticks in order to stay awake on a late-night drive?). The film culminates in the Grand Théâtre Lumière at the Palais des Festival in Cannes, with Atkinson inadvertently replacing Clay's self-aggrandizing art-house bore with the video of his cross-country adventures, which the audience mistakes for some kind of creative genius (it's hard not to see this entire sequence as a smirking snub to all the intellectuals who have looked down their noses at Mr. Bean for the past 17 years).

While no one will likely mistake Mr. Bean's Holiday for creative genius, it is an exceptionally funny film, one that pays due homage to its silent film forebears without simply aping their antics. What is perhaps most intriguing about the film is the way it studiously redeems the incessantly navel-gazing Mr. Bean by finally showing his softer side. It's hard not to sense a little more Chaplin-esque sentimentality with the inclusion of a lost kid and the formation of an ad hoc family, and it's genuinely surprising that Mr. Bean turns out to be so emotionally malleable. There is still plenty of the old Bean (at one point, a kindly Frenchman offers to give the hitch-hiking boob a ride on his old-fashioned motorbike and Bean responds by trying to steal it for himself), but at the end of the day heart trumps cynicism.

Mr. Bean's Holiday DVD
Mr. Bean's Holiday is also available in full-frame DVD and on HD-DVD.
Aspect Ratio1.85:1
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish, French
  • Deleted scenes
  • “French Beans” featurette
  • “Beans in Cannes” featurette
  • “The Human Bean” featurette
  • DistributorUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
    Release DateNovember 27, 2007

    My memories of Mr. Bean stem entirely from the BBC series, which was shot on dull, low-resolution analog video. What a surprise, then, it was to see the character in such a visually lovely film. The anamorphic widescreen transfer of Mr. Bean's Holiday maintains all the colorful beauty of the film's southern French locations, from a hectic marketplace, to a gorgeous field of yellow flowers, to the crystal blue waters of the Côte d'Azur. The image is sharp, clean, and wonderfully detailed through. Given the virtually silent nature of Mr. Bean's comedy, there isn't a whole lot of work for the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack, but it takes advantage of every opportunity. The down-pouring rain in the opening sequence is fully enveloping, and the various high-speed trains have a good, dense rumble to them.
    The supplements on this disc are light, but fun. “French Beans” is an 11-minute making-of documentary that features behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with actors Rowan Atkinson, Max Baldry, and Emma de Caunes, director Steve Bendelack, writers Hamish McColl and Simon McBurney, and producers Tim Bevan and Caroline Hewitt. “Beans in Cannes” is a five-minute featurette about the shooting of the climax at the actual Cannes Film Festival, and the six-minute “The Human Bean” is a tribute to Rowan Atkinson and his work as Bean. There are also an astounding 17 deleted scenes (about 23 minutes total, all presented in anamorphic widescreen), some of which are variations on scenes in the movie and others of which are gags that were completely cut, most likely to keep the running time down.

    Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick

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    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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