TV Review - Pee-wee's Big Holiday

Paul Reubens is most known for his character Pee-wee Herman whom he created back in 1981. Unlike most characters created 30 years ago, Reubens doesn't have to acknowledge the passage of time. Pee-wee Herman is a cartoon-like character who like a member of The Simpsons doesn't age or grow or change. Reubens ages but he does what he can to stay in a time warp. The character became well-known through a really, trippy, TV series where furniture talked and there was a head in a box. A feature film, directed by Tim Burton, took Pee-wee on a road trip adventure where Pee-wee encountered various people both friendly and threatening. This movie follows that same format. It's not a sequel though.

Pee-wee goes on a road trip and as he does, the one question that I couldn't get out of my head is if Pee-wee were gay. The journey on its surface is about Pee-wee losing a friend but finding another. The point being both friends are too unlikely but that Pee-wee can embrace the new and different. However, there are certain thematic and even coded things in this movie that suggest a homoerotic or gay subtext.

Despite the movie being set in the present, Pee-wee lives in a town called Fairville, which looks like the setting of Pleasantville (1998) after it was colorized. Everything and everyone look and act as if they exist fifty or sixty years in the past. Pee-wee might as well be Marty McFly in Pine Valley, 1955, except Pee-wee isn't trying to go back to the future. Pee-wee is fully comfortable in this era, and just as talk about sex and sexuality was not as open or nuanced in the 1950's, neither is Pee-wee.

Maybe Pee-wee is asexual. When a very pretty girl named Emily approaches him outside the library, Pee-wee does all that he can to avoid her obvious advances. Later, in the movie, Pee-wee avoids the advances of a slew of sisters. He does kiss a switchblade-wielding, female, bank robber but only because she seems to be a reflection of himself, if only nominally.

The road trip has Pee-wee avoiding all kinds of crazy or oddball characters. However, he doesn't avoid everyone. He does embrace or take to some individuals. For example, Pee-wee embraces four, black hairstylists. Two of whom are men and both of whom are obviously gay. The only two men whom Pee-wee befriends on the road are two clear homosexuals.

This is not evidence by itself that Pee-wee is batting for the other team. In one scene, Pee-wee is asked to choose between two kinds of nuts, and Pee-wee says, "I can't decide." The response, which Pee-wee seems to accept, is, "Why decide? Have them both!" In that, the same could be said of Pee-wee's sexual preference.

What can't be ignored is Pee-wee's motivation for going on the road trip. Pee-wee is invited to the birthday party of Joe Manganiello who plays himself. Manganiello's introduction is the kind of slow-motion walk toward the camera that is reserved for the sexual fetishizing of Bond women.

Pee-wee's gaze at Manganiello is almost lustful. From that introduction forward, Pee-wee dreams of this man, again in slow-motion and surrounded by colorful fireworks. The one time there is full nudity is when we see Manganiello soapy and wet in the shower.

One of the black hairstylists is played by Darryl Stephens, an openly gay actor. There's also a cameo by Mark Cirillo, an openly gay actor who also had a cameo in another Netflix reboot, that of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. The denouement of this movie involves something called "glitter mountain." If that doesn't convince that this Pee-wee-centric excursion is very queer, then I don't know what will.

That being said, one wonders how this movie works as a comedy. Like with many recent things on Netflix from Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp to Fuller House, this too leans heavily on nostalgia and aping what was old. Written by Paul Reubens and Paul Rust, the story feels even more thin than Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985). Directed by John Lee, it's certainly not as imaginative or as odd as what Tim Burton brought. Produced by Judd Apatow, this movie has the flaw of many Apatow films, that of dragging jokes out way too long, letting them go on for forever, when the movie should have just moved on.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 30 mins.
Available on Netflix on March 18, 2016.


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