Starring: Rosamund Pike, David Tennant, Billy Connolly
Genre: Comedy/ Drama
Despite being in the process of divorcing each other, Doug (Tennant) and Abi (Pike) travel up to Scotland together with their three children for the 75th birthday party of Doug’s father Gordy (Connolly), with Doug suffering from terminal cancer they have decided not to tell him of their split. However, due to the dysfunctional nature of their family, especially their three very spirited and outspoken children, the trip away takes some highly unexpected turns.
You can usually tell what sort of film you are in for by the facial expressions of the main characters on the poster. Well, in the case of What We Did on Our Holiday the fact David Tennant and Rosamund Pike are smiling and looking very pleased with themselves on the poster means we are in for an uplifting comedy. Well, after the poster, that is where the similarity ends with perhaps more mainstream films that would contain a similar narrative premise. This may be part of the reason as to why WWDOOH has not exactly set the British box office alight, but in my view is all the better for it as writers/ directors Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin stick to the same formula of semi-improvised dialogue and bittersweet and subtle humour from their TV series Outnumbered. Of course it has the occasional cliché, but thankfully the writers have skilfully avoided all the awful cheap clichés and lazy gags that seem to plague many mainstream comedies these days that have a story and characters like this. It is a film that has genuinely hilarious moments from start to finish, with engaging characters all portrayed perfectly by the spot-on cast, with the three children being the main stars.
It is indeed in the dialogue that the comedy can be found, instead of cheap gags and set pieces like in, as I just stated, are in so many other mainstream comedies. Perhaps this subtle and sometimes observational approach will mean the very British humour to WWDOOH may not travel very well to other markets, but it in my opinion makes this is film a far more funnier and engaging experience than so much of the other mainstream tripe that gets far more press. It should also never be under estimated just how difficult that can be to get right, especially in the genre of comedy, but WWDOOH as its best when it is just dialogue shared between the adults and children and full credit should be given to the cast for how effortless they make it look. Likewise this is not just Outnumbered: The Movie, some have claimed this film not to feel cinematic, but I would disagree with that and say it does not feel out of place on the big screen and fully deserves its cinematic release. There are often plenty of panning shots of the beautiful Scottish countryside that add a cinematic element. Of course many scenes are dialogue heavy, with the camera having very little to do. However adding any cinematic gloss to these scenes would add way too much sheen and take away the naturalistic rawness that makes the film funny in the first place.
The entire cast are all note perfect; David Tennant and Rosemund Pike share great chemistry as the two parents, while excellent support is given by Ben Miller and Amelia Bullmore as Doug’s brother Gavin and Gavin’s wife respectively. Billy Connolly may be essentially playing himself as the children’s grandfather, but he is also excellent in a role that is both genuinely funny and moving. However, the stars of the film are without a doubt Emilia Jones, Ameila Bullmore and Bobby Smalldridge as the three children. As much as they annoy their parents, they are anything but annoying to watch, and it is the dialogue shared between them and the adults that provides the very funniest moments in the film.
It is a film that is not afraid to take a few risks with its narrative, justifying the 12A certificate in what is definitely not a children’s film. Indeed that may partly explain a modest box office return; as WWDOOH may have children as the main stars, but yet it isn’t really for children, and so that does pose a problem from a marketing point of view. Though the humour is often shown from the point of view of the children, it is anything but childish (like in Adam Sandler films); it is very intelligent, observational and poignant.
Part of the drama is the film’s observation of the effects on children of Divorcing or constantly arguing parents, and how it is described by the three children in the film is portrayed with the utmost intelligence. There is always humour to be found in any situation, and though of course there are slight exaggerations for the sake of drama, it is the realism that makes WWDOOH all the more engaging and hilarious. The film’s narrative does take one direction which is maybe unexpected, but refreshing in that it is consistent with the tone of what has preceded it. However, it is after this in the final third that the film starts to lose its way slightly. There are still some funny moments, once again in exchanges of dialogue between the children and the adults, but story wise it feels like Hamilton and Jenkin are a little unsure of what to do next, and the wheels do start to slightly come off as there is a feeling that they are now slightly making it up as they go along. Likewise the ending is quite cheesy and clichéd, but considering the consistent laughs the often hilarious dialogue provides throughout, it cannot stop What We Did on Our Holiday from overall being a real treat to watch.
Despite a slight final third wobble, with great writing and acting the creators of Outnumbered successfully bring their formula to the big screen with What We Did on Our Holiday being a mature, wonderfully engaging and consistently hilarious bittersweet comedy.