We’re All Ridiculous (Film Review: “What We Did on Our Holiday”)

An instant favorite about an eccentric young family in turmoil and their annual holiday in the Scottish Highlands with a wise and hilarious grandfather on the eve of his milestone birthday. It’s a total charmer.

SnapShot Plot

What We Did on Our Holiday is the kind of charmer that captures your heart while at the same time never insults your intelligence. This 2014 British comedy seems to have come and gone with barely a ripple in the U.S. markets, but thanks to Amazon Prime it now has a well-deserved second life.

Starring acclaimed British actress, Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) and Scottish treasure, David Tennant (Broadchurch; Dr. Who) as feuding parents of three bright, albeit eccentric children, the story takes place during the annual family pilgrimage to the Scottish Highlands to celebrate the patriarchal birthday of the grandfather, played to tongue-in-cheek perfection by Scottish legend, Billy Connolly. From the opening scene of the film, in which frazzled Londoners Doug and Abi McLeod try to pack their kids and their strange assortment of personal belongings into the car to embark on the journey to Scotland, it becomes painfully clear that this marriage is in a state of crisis. Just as that realization dawns, however, (and for no apparent reason), an ostrich simply walks across the frame and is gone as quickly as it appeared. That’s the moment when you realize you’ve jumped on a ride that may show real moments in a strained family dynamic but the dips and turns will be tempered by a delightful sojourn into silliness as well.

The family arrives at the posh home of Doug’s brother, Gavin and his silently suffering wife, Margaret and into the wise and wonderful arms of the grandfather, Gordie. This, Gordie’s 75th birthday, will probably be his last, as his recent battle with cancer looks ill-fated. Abi and Doug fight about everything but pretend they’re handling things perfectly (the oldest daughter, Lottie has taken to entering all their lies into a little notebook in which she obsessively curates the deceptions of her parents) but they agree to keep their marital woes under wraps in order to give Gordie one last happy birthday surrounded by a loving, intact family.

Gordie isn’t buying any of this rubbish; he’s a no nonsense kind of person who doesn’t take himself or his mortality too seriously. He takes the kids to the beach where he proceeds to show them what it means to be truly alive, sharing with them his own brand of breezy fatalism and imploring them to cherish the ridiculousness at the heart of every human being. All this soulful philosophizing might have come across as pedantic in lesser hands than Connolly’s, or with a script less smart than this one, but instead the day progresses from one insightful and joyful moment to the next, before you realize that something quite profound is actually taking place.

Parting Shot

Written and directed by longtime comedy collaborators, Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin and shot on location in Glasgow and the Scottish Highlands, What We Did on Our Holiday is the kind of movie that families should watch together, and often. It shows plucky children whose intelligence doesn’t hinge on snarky pranks or vulgar antics. It shows adults struggling with their lives, all the while knowing they bear the responsibility of being role models for their kids. And most importantly, it doesn’t relent on the harsh realities of life; despite this being a charming family comedy, the writing can be scathing and the film doesn’t contort it’s characters’ arcs to force a happily ever after ending that just wouldn’t ring true. I like an anecdote I read about co-writer/director Andy Hamilton that made me wonder how much of himself went into Gordie’s character. Apparently his right hand is missing a thumb, about which he has quipped that it was amputated at age five “by a surgeon who felt that symmetry was over-rated.”

One cannot overestimate the importance of loving and irreverent grandparents in our childrens’ lives. On a personal note, today’s Norma’s Streaming Picks is dedicated to another much-loved grandfather, to whom our family is now bidding a fond and final farewell.

What We Did on Our Holiday is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Norma’s Streaming Picks is proud to partner on a fantastic site for Baby Boomers, Midcentury/Modern as well as right here at home. I invite you to go there for more great content!

YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9Lp1DVXIrE

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