(This has first appeared in Firstpost)
Take the best elements of the delightful 2006 film, Little Miss Sunshine – children, grandfather, warring parents – remove its dark depth and churn it into a larger, crowd-pleasing, feel-good film with a clichéd dash of humour, and you get What We Did On Our Holiday.
This passable summer-holiday watch has Gone Girl’s Oscar-nominated star Rosamund Pike as the everyday wife and mom. Her presence and performance are just as average. The same is true of David Tennant, who plays Pike’s husband.
As it happens with any family in life, the children take centrestage in What We Did… . They are not cute little darlings, but brats who are capable of driving their parents crazy. In the backseat, they’re an annoyance. Put them in the front seat and no parent will survive their antics. Their intrepid and adorable grandfather (Billy Connolly), with his dangerous sense of humour, does exactly that on his supposedly last birthday.
What follows is a Hollywood ride that gives two BBC writers – the writer-director duo of Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin – a chance to poke fun at the British. The children’s behaviour is explained to strangers with one line: ”They are from London.”
A London based couple, Aby (Pike) and Doug (David Tennant), drive down to the scenic Scotland Highlands with their three brats. They’ve gone to visit their cancer struck father, Gordie (Connolly) on his 75th birthday. The constantly arguing couple is about to split and decide to keep it a secret for the sake of the ailing dad.
However, Aby and Doug’s brats are the sort who would be more than happy to spill more beans than you can count. And there are many. Like, the parents live in separate houses now. Oh, and pop is having an affair.
The writing goes out of its way to make it clear that this is a dysfunctional family. And if this wasn’t evident to the presumably dimwitted audiences in the course of the film, then Aby gives a last key speech on how its all about loving your family, functional or otherwise. You’d be forgiven for thinking it belongs in the climax of a Karan Johar film. It’s another matter that this speech is one of What We Did…’s big failures since it’s used to breezily wrap up a hasty and lazy third act.
Fortunately, What We Did… has the brats. Mickey (Bobby Smalldridge), 6, worships the Vikings. Ten-year-old Lottie (Emilia Jones) has mastered the art of serious, mature expressions while she jots down every family secret in her notebook. Aby and Doug’s youngest, Jess (Harriet Turnbull), is the cutest and the scene-stealer. She has rocks for pets and shamelessly steals her uncle’s keys.
The uncle is Doug’s elder brother, Gavin (Ben Miller) who is as much a kid as Jess. Keep an eye out for the clapping scene (after a boring violin performance by Gavin’s son) with Gavin and Jess, which is quite chuckle worthy. Gavin’s wife, Margaret (a delightful Amelia Bullmore) is a depressed nutcase in private but utterly composed in drawing rooms. Her character is a stroke of fine writing, in its subtle and funny exploration of the pressure that intensifies from keeping up family appearances.
Between the three little monsters and the two family comedians, there is much fun to be had at grandpa’s birthday.
One thing is guaranteed after watching What We Did On Our Holiday: you may not be keen on brats, but you will be sold on the idea of a holiday in Scotland.